Butler Did It
UConn's Caron Butler shed his reticence to become the top scorer
for the U.S. team
During the 2000-01 season, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim could see
that Caron Butler, a 6'7" swingman for rival UConn, had
prodigious talent, but he also noticed in him a quality rarely
displayed by such a heralded freshman. "He was pretty
conservative," Boeheim says. "He tried to fit in and not overdo
anything." When he saw the same tendency last week in Dallas,
where Butler and 13 of the nation's top collegians were preparing
for this month's World Championship for Young Men in Japan,
Boeheim, the U.S. coach, urged Butler to alter his approach. "Be
more aggressive," Boeheim told him during a practice. "You're not
here to be a role player. You're here to dominate."
Butler wasn't exactly a role player last season--he led the
Huskies in scoring (with a 15.3-point average) and rebounding
(7.6)--but his days as a reluctant star appear to be over. An
explosive leaper, Butler led the U.S. in scoring with an
18.0-point average during the team's two exhibition wins last
week over Lithuania and Yugoslavia. At Boeheim's prodding, Butler
attempted a team-high 25 field goals, making 14. He still needs
to improve his long-range shooting (he made 30.4% of his
three-point shots last season), but judging from last week's
performance, Butler looks ready to battle Boston College guard
Troy Bell for the Big East player of the year award this season.
"I'm starting to feel like a dominant player," says the
21-year-old Butler. "I know if I can go to the hole against these
guys [from the U.S. team], I can do it against anybody."
Given Butler's past, it's remarkable that he should have such a
bright future. While growing up in Racine, Wis., he was immersed
in a life of gangs and crime, and at age 14 he was arrested for
possession of cocaine and a gun. He subsequently served 18 months
in a juvenile correction facility, a stint that included 1 1/2
weeks in solitary confinement for fighting. "Man, that killed
me," he says. "It was just a room and a bed. A little light came
through a small window on the door, but everything else was
dark." Butler was released in the fall of 1996 and enrolled in
January '97 as a sophomore at Racine's Park High.
He played only three games for Park High's varsity that year but
earned all-state honors the next season after averaging 24.3
points and 11.1 rebounds. He transferred to Maine Central
Institute, a basketball powerhouse, for his senior year and a
postgraduate year. By the time he arrived at UConn last fall, he
was one of the nation's top recruits.
Faced with having to support his six-year-old daughter, Camry,
who lives with her mother in Wisconsin, Butler says he came "real
close" this spring to entering the NBA draft before deciding he
wasn't ready. He has spent much of the last two months running
laps with members of the Huskies' track team and hoisting
hundreds of jump shots a day in Gampel Pavilion. Now Butler
believes he's ready to shine. "I wasted 18 months of my life, and
I can't get that back," he says, "but I know what to do with the
rest of it."
New Kind of Experience
During his four years as DePaul's coach, Pat Kennedy has lost two
sophomores (Quentin Richardson and Steven Hunter), two juniors
(Paul McPherson and Bobby Simmons) and one high school signee
(Eddy Curry) to the NBA draft. So instead of traveling last week
to Orlando or Las Vegas, where the summer's two biggest high
school recruiting showcases were being held, Kennedy split his
time between Tulsa and Terre Haute, Ind., where several hundred
of the nation's top junior college players were on display. "This
is the first time in almost 30 years of coaching I've been at a
junior college event during the summer," Kennedy said last
Thursday in Tulsa, where Jerry Mullen, a former juco coach, was
holding a camp at Oral Roberts. "People have been joking that
soon everybody will be here except for Stanford and Duke."
Indeed, with high schoolers and collegians bolting to the pros in
record numbers, college coaches are turning increasingly to
junior colleges in search of players who have talent and
experience. Kennedy, in fact, plans to recruit jucos exclusively
every other year so his team won't ever be too young. "Today, you
have to look everywhere you can for players," says Kansas coach
Roy Williams, who also attended his first juco summer event last
week. "The landscape is definitely changing."
The summer's most heated juco recruiting battle is over Antwain
Barbour, a spindly 6'5" sophomore at Wabash Valley College in Mt.
Carmel, Ill. A native of Elizabethtown, Ky., Barbour, who failed
to qualify academically for Division I out of high school, was a
first team All-America and earned MVP honors at the national
junior college championships last March. He was the sole juco
invitee to the USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs in early
June and is a finalist to play for the U.S. at the World
University Games in Beijing later this month. Kentucky,
Louisville and Cincinnati are angling for Barbour's services, but
the team to beat may be UNLV because Jay Spoonhour, who was
Wabash Valley's coach last year, is now a Runnin' Rebels
assistant under his father, Charlie.
Other top sophomores at Mullen's camp included 6'9" Chris Booker
of Tyler (Texas) Junior College, who will probably choose between
Kansas and Purdue; 6'9" Jeff Graves of Iowa Western C.C., who is
considering Iowa State, Missouri and UNLV, among others; and 6'2"
Nate Johnson of Penn Valley C.C. in Kansas City, Mo., who has
rescinded his oral commitment to Oklahoma State and is being
courted by DePaul.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO With 12 points against Lithuania, Butler showed that he has a bright future despite a troubled past.
After spending a few days trying to defend the indefensible,
Cincinnati-based promoter Chris Spencer said last Friday that he
would find another venue to host three early-season tournaments
scheduled to be played in Las Vegas. Spencer had arranged to have
the games held in a ballroom at the Paris hotel and casino,
drawing the ire of NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey as well
as Arizona senator John McCain, who at the NCAA's behest is
cosponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for Las Vegas's
sports books to take bets on college games. The likely new venue
for the tournaments, in which 24 schools will participate,
doesn't do much to help the NCAA's anti-gambling drive. The games
will reportedly be played elsewhere in Las Vegas....
At a USA Basketball camp teeming with top-flight point
guards--Troy Bell of Boston College, Frank Williams of Illinois,
Marcus Taylor of Michigan State and Jameer Nelson of St.
Joseph's--Duke sophomore Chris Duhon emerged as the unquestioned
first-string quarterback. Says U.S. team coach Jim Boeheim, "He
anticipates passes on defense as well as anyone I've ever
Last week in Las Vegas, National Association of Basketball
Coaches executive director Jim Haney told an assemblage of
coaches that he expects the NCAA's management council to adopt a
proposal in the fall that in two years would increase to 14 the
maximum number of scholarships for Division I teams. The NCAA
reduced the maximum from 14 to 13 in 1993, creating greater
parity, but coaches complained that the limits sometimes left
them short of players.