Rasual Butler was always one of those players who thought he was
working hard but didn't really know the meaning of the phrase.
He was a big-time prospect coming out of Philadelphia's Roman
Catholic High in 1998 and was intensely recruited by Maryland.
The Terrapins, however, also liked swingman Danny Miller from
Rancocas Valley Regional High in Mount Holly, N.J., and when
they got an early commitment from Miller, Butler settled for La
Salle, because it was close to home. At 6'7" and with a sweet
shooting stroke, he was named first-team All-Atlantic 10 as a
junior last season, averaging 22.1 points a game, but he took so
many shots--many of them ill-advised--that he earned a
reputation as a gunner, a stigma his 40.2% shooting did nothing
Then he spent two weeks in Houston last summer working out with
Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley, an old pal from Philly, and he
learned the meaning of hard work. The two played ball for
several hours each day, with Mobley never letting up on Butler.
They spent mornings and evenings focusing on drills and
afternoons playing pickup games. When they weren't on the court,
they broke down videotapes of NBA games and talked about how a
player fulfills his potential. "Cuttino told me everybody at the
next level can score, but there's also rebounding, defense and
passing," says Butler. "He constantly talked to me about
improving and said that from where we come from, it's nothing
for us to work this hard."
Butler took the lessons to heart, and the results have been
stunning. Through Sunday his scoring was down, to 21.0 points a
game, but nearly every other stat was up. His rebounding had
gone from 6.4 a game to 9.1. His three-point attempts had
decreased, and his shooting percentage had increased. He was
also on pace for many more blocks and several more steals than a
year ago. "He's a more complete player now," said Penn coach
Fran Dunphy after Butler scored 30 points and had 11 rebounds in
an 81-76 overtime loss to the Quakers on Jan. 29. "He has a
better understanding of what the game is all about."
"I've matured a lot, and I'm taking responsibility for things on
the court more," says Butler, who scored a career-high 44 points
in a 77-64 win over Rhode Island last Saturday. "I'm trying to
play under control and show I have a good basketball IQ."
What Butler learned from Mobley has been reinforced by
first-year Explorers coach Billy Hahn, who had first met Butler
while recruiting him for Maryland, where Hahn was an assistant
the last 12 seasons. In his initial meeting with Butler upon
taking the La Salle job, Hahn told him he'd have to improve his
game. Hahn knew that the Explorers would be inexperienced--their
starting lineup includes a junior transfer, one sophomore and
one freshman--and that Butler would have to provide leadership.
Butler accepted the challenge, and, says Hahn, "the NBA scouts
all say they can't believe this is the same kid they saw last
With a 13-14 record through Sunday, La Salle has no chance to go
to the NCAA tournament unless it wins the Atlantic 10
tournament, so Butler's college career will more than likely
soon be over. But he'll leave as the Explorers' best player
since Lionel (L-Train) Simmons, who played from 1986-87 to
1989-90, and many NBA scouts project Butler as a first-round
draft pick. A few weeks ago Fordham coach Bob Hill, who formerly
guided the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers and the New
York Knicks, pulled Butler aside after the Rams beat the
Explorers and commended him on his play, telling him, "Don't
change a thing you're doing."
Hill needn't worry. Given his success, Butler doesn't plan on
reverting to his old ways.
COLOR PHOTO: STEVEN FREEMAN