Butler Serving Apaches Well
By JOE BUIE
Jimmy Butler took the road less traveled to play junior college basketball.
The 6-6 freshman wing — with enough ball-handling skills to be a point guard — came to Tyler Junior College to play for Mike Marquis despite being an academic qualifier.
Butler’s skill and production suggest he can play major college basketball. And to that end, Region XIV’s fourth-leading scorer will leave the Apaches after this season.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying being part of a winning team for the first time in his life.
The No. 15 Apaches (19-1), off to their best start since the 1980-81 season, lead the conference at 13-1 with eight regular season games to play.
They will take an eight-game winning streak into Saturday’s road test at Navarro (12-10, 9-5), where the Apaches have won only twice this decade.
The tip-off is 4 p.m. at the Wolens Center on the Navarro campus.
“I’ve never won like this before in my life,” said Butler, a graduate of Tomball High School north of Houston. “I just love the feeling of winning. I’ve never had this feeling before.”
Butler never experienced playoff basketball in two seasons on the varsity at Tomball. A senior-laden team his junior year started 8-0 before Butler said egos led to their downfall.
Butler’s senior year was a success individually — he upped his scoring average from 9.9 points per game to 20-plus — but he was pretty much all Tomball had.
One might look at Butler’s immediate impact at TJC — averaging 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists — and figure he was ticketed for stardom early on.
Far from it.
“As a freshman I was only 5-5 and everybody just looked over me. I was a nobody at Tomball,” he said. “Coach always put me at point guard. My coach in high school always had faith in me and set high goals for me.”
Butler, who had shot up to 6-3 by his junior year, comes from good stock. His grandfather is 6-6, his dad 6-4 and his mom 5-8. Both of his parents played high school basketball.
Due to the late growth spurt, the player who leads the Apaches in scoring had to first learn to pass before emerging as a 6-6 scorer his senior year.
But that emergence came too late for him to be fully recruited. That, and the fact he didn’t play any AAU tournaments until after his senior year (“I didn’t have the money to afford it or the transportation to get there,” Butler said.
Mississippi State wanted him, and still does, but Butler said the Bulldogs were out of scholarships.
Butler was then advised to play for a junior college — specifically TJC — rather than go to a prep school for a year.
“They like the way I’ve been playing so far,” Butler said of Mississippi State. “It’s looking pretty good.”
Butler, who was also recruited by TCU, Sam Houston State and Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, has a great respect for the Region XIV Conference and the talent in it.
The Apaches have lost only one game all season, but they’ve had to pull out a few at the end.
In the first meeting with Navarro back on Dec. 5, TJC fell behind 15-2 as the Bulldogs started 5-for-5 from the 3-point line. The Apaches never led until overtime in their 77-75 victory.
That may have been Butler’s worst performance of the season. He scored five points on 1-of-8 shooting, and he had just five rebounds.
“I wasn’t being aggressive at all,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to score, I wasn’t looking to pass … We’ve become better as a team and I know where everybody is going to be.”
Butler scored only eight points in Wednesday’s 89-67 win over Lee College, but he did other things like collect 11 rebounds and dish out eight assists.
“I’d say my role would be a scorer, just because of my mid-range game and the way that I play,” said Butler, who can score inside and out. “But at times I can be a passer, rebounder, and when the team needs me at the point guard just because I’m 6-6 and I can handle the ball pretty well.”
Smoke Signals: Navarro, maybe looking ahead to the Tyler game, had won seven straight before falling flat in Wednesday’s 51-36 loss at home to Jacksonville. The Bulldogs shot 1-for-27 from 3-point range.