Injury is not the end for WVU star Butler
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Given his place in West Virginia basketball history and the way things ended on the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Final Four, Da'Sean Butler understands people are concerned and curious.
He just wants people to understand something. That ending will not be his ending.
Those who saw Butler on the floor with his coach, Bob Huggins, holding the guard's face in his hands, whose hearts sank as teammates helped Butler off the floor and to the locker room after he tore the ACL and sprained the MCL in his left knee against Duke, will see the Mountaineers' No. 3 all-time leading scorer again.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm going to be fine. I'm not worried. All positive."
Those words had barely escaped his mouth when a woman tapped Butler on the shoulder. She remembered watching WVU's last Final Four team 51 years earlier and wondered if Butler might sign a piece of memorabilia "for an old lady."
Butler smiled and then obliged.
"But where's the old lady?"
The senior from Newark, N.J., would rather not talk about his knee. He will, but not for long. He has too much else going on to dwell on the knee he's forced to worry about every day. His rehabilitation is painful, constant and not nearly as much fun as the other things Butler has done to pass the time.
In his first public appearance following surgery, Butler limped out to the mound in Bridgeport to throw out the first pitch of the Little League season, as he had pledged to do before. The catcher met Butler at the mound and asked for an autograph.
Butler had another idea.
"No," Butler said, "I want you to sign this ball so I can have it for my collection."
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Basketball being what it's been for Butler, it makes sense sports have served as a distraction from workouts and a source of pleasure.
Last week he had primo seats for a boxing card at Waterfront Place. Well before that, Huggins' daughter, Jenna, took Butler to Cincinnati for the Reds' season-opener. It was his first baseball game.
"That was awesome," he said. "Jenna goes to all the games. Well, not all of them, but a lot of them, and she goes to Opening Day a lot. She asked me if I wanted to go. I said, 'Definitely.' "
He was glad he went. Before changing his major to multidisciplinary studies, Butler was interested in broadcast journalism.
Butler said Jenna pulled some strings with people she knows with the Reds and got Butler in the play-by-play booth with longtime broadcaster Marty Brennaman.
Just don't ask Butler how long he was there.
"I don't know - I don't know anything about baseball," he said. "I was just sitting there and watching. But it was pretty cool."
Want to know what else is pretty cool for Butler? It's the little things. The parking situation, he said, was an unexpected perk. Unable to drive with his left leg braced, he has relied on others to shuttle him around town. It's difficult for him to use a crutch to walk long distances from a car to a destination.
So he got a tag to hang on the rear-view mirror that allowed him to park in handicap spots.
"It's not all bad," he said. "It's actually better than you think."
Late in March, as Butler searched for anything he could use as motivation for himself and his team deep in the NCAA Tournament, he realized a lot of teams had famous fans and WVU had "a couple of war vets in the crowd, a couple older fellows who used to play in the NBA in the '50s."
Butler made this an issue when the Mountaineers were getting ready to play Kentucky. The Wildcats claimed actress Ashley Judd and rapper Drake as fans in the stands. Last month Drake performed in the WVU Coliseum. Butler had great seats again.
"I sat in the handicapped section," he said. "I was up there in the loop sitting and watching. I'm telling you, I'm having a good time."
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Butler will spend a lot of time between now and the June 24 NBA Draft in Pensacola, Fla., working on his knee. He assures anyone who will listen that his knee is doing great. Better than expected, in fact. As proof, he offers two words: James Andrews.
In sports surgery, there is no more reputable name. The famous surgeon, who operates on the biggest names, was the one who repaired Butler's knee.
"A friend of mine's father suggested it because he had surgery there and said he was a really good guy and they were somewhat good friends, so he set everything up as far as me going down there and meeting him and getting the MRI and all that stuff," Butler said. "Dr. Andrews let me know what he wanted to do and said, 'I can do it tomorrow or next week.' We did it the next day."
If Butler had any worries about the repair of his knee, Andrews' reputation helped to ease those concerns.
"That was actually the main reason for me going down there," Butler said. "He's worked on so many people who've bounced back and done great things again. Everyone knows that, so it felt great to have his name behind my surgery."
The surgery and rehabilitation sets a course for the NBA. A first-round pick is highly improbable because it comes with a guaranteed contract for a player who isn't guaranteed to play next season. That condition makes a second-round selection seem risky because if a team owns his rights and waits until he recovers, it still must pay Butler.
Bob Huggins remains Butler's most vocal and ardent supporter.
"The only advice I've given him is he's got to keep working," Huggins said. "His life is not over. His career is certainly not over. He's just got to keep working because he'll play again. I've told the NBA guys, 'Anybody who doesn't grab this guy is a fool. He's so versatile and he wins games for you.' "
Whether or not those NBA guys listen doesn't particularly bother Butler. He has listened and that's all that matters.
"There's a spot for me somewhere, regardless if I get drafted or not," he said. "If I miss the cut, I miss the cut. I'll make it sooner or later. It'll happen."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.