The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 27, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Butler was worth gamble

MORGANTOWN — It was a lesson that comes to any recently graduated college student, the lesson that life in the real world is tougher than you ever imagined. The idealism that grew through four or five years of living in the fantasyland of higher learning, be it in the classroom or carousing the downtown nightlife is traded for the responsibilities that come with trying to carve your place in society.

In many ways, the lesson began for Da’Sean Butler on the floor in Indianapolis, Ind., laying in a heap with his knee torn apart within, his fabled college career as a West Virginia basketball player now only so much ink in the history books.

Had that not occurred, his might have been a storybook life, for who knows how high he might have gone in an NBA draft that saw Miami select him in the second round with the 42nd pick even though he had but one functional leg and his future was uncertain.

They felt it was worth the gamble and they were right, for Da’Sean Butler is a special player, a special person.

But, as he learned a day ago, even the best of us have nothing given to us and that the road to the dreams you hold so dear is filled with potholes of despair.

Da’Sean Butler was cut by Miami, his run as a teammate of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade over.

Everyone agrees that it was a raw deal, a cruel twist of fate that kept him from having that chance to prove himself. He never made it to the floor in Miami, set back by complications with his knee, and yet the Heat was willing to wait.

They were ready to give him a spot on their roster, a chance to rehabilitate and to prove to them when he could that he was an NBA player, the kind of player who had led West Virginia to the Final Four before that knee gave out as he drove the baseline.

But life is no fairytale and there are far more invisible ogres out there then any wide-eyed college graduate imagines as he begins down life’s highway.

First there was a matter of a setback that required additional surgery that kept Butler off the court through the entire pre-season. He got a chance to show the Heat the special qualities of character that had made him a folk hero in West Virginia.

What he could not show him was those basketball qualities that made him an All-American and allowed him to not only be the Mountaineers leading scorer in a magical season but to hit six game-winning shots along the way.

No less than James himself was impressed with Butler, the basketball player, from what he saw of him in college, and said so just a week ago.

“He’s an unbelievable talent,” James was quoted as saying. “And the leadership he showed for that West Virginia team ... anytime you watched a game, you always hear the commentators say, when those guys needed a bucket or needed a big play, ‘Where’s Da’Sean at?’ And he always delivered.”

The Heat was hoping they had a steal with him that low in the draft but they needed to evaluate his health, to see how he responded on court. They were willing to wait, mind  you, until fate turned on him.

Mike Miller had one of the roster spots but on Oct. 20, just five

days before the cutdown date, he suffered a fracture and ligament damage to his right thumb.

The Heat had to hold a spot for him and they also had to replace him with someone who could play, signing the veteran Jerry Stackhouse.

Suddenly, the door was closing in Butler’s face. The Heat, so to speak, was on.

“You run out of spots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You really would love to keep a couple developmental guys, especially two players like Patrick Beverley and Da’Sean Butler. They were phenomenal while they were here. Patrick made significant progress just since this summer and Butler, that was tough because we never got to see him play, but we were a big fan of his winning mentality.”

This, of course, is not the end of the dream for Butler. Knowing him, it is only the beginning, but it is the world’s way of telling him it isn’t going to be easy, as if it ever has.

He’ll rehabilitate the knee and who knows, someone may take a chance when he is healthy.

Or he may have to prove himself in the developmental league or in Europe, but when you have the blend of talent and character that Butler possesses, it can only make the inevitable success taste even sweeter.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

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