Ex-TJC Standout Butler Expected To Be Picked Up In NBA Draft
By JOE BUIE
Tonight, Jimmy Butler figures to become just the fourth player ever from Tyler Junior College to be drafted into the NBA.
Through his Twitter account, the former Marquette standout said he will be with his family in the Houston suburb of Tomball when his name is announced at draft headquarters in Newark, N.J.
Though Butler said he's not having a draft party, there will surely be celebrations from Houston to Tyler to Milwaukee if the night goes as predicted.
According to three different draft websites, the 6-7, 220-pound small forward could go to the Detroit Pistons with the 33rd pick, the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 39 or the Atlanta Hawks at No. 48.
If that comes to fruition -- the draft is two rounds and 60 picks -- Butler would join James (Poo) Welch (Atlanta Hawks, 1971, fourth found), Charles McMillian (Kansas City Kings, 1978, seventh round) and Kaniel Dickens (Utah Jazz, second round, 2000) as the only TJC men's basketball players to be drafted into the NBA.
Noted former NBA players Robert Pack (1991-2004), David Benoit (1991-2001) and Sam Mack (1992-2002), who played for TJC, joined the league as free agents.
"This is a tremendously proud moment for the TJC basketball family," said TJC head basketball coach Mike Marquis.
Marquis witnessed Butler's rare ability during their only season together in 2007-08, when the Apaches captured the Region XIV regular-season championship and finished 25-4. Butler scored 43 points in his final game with TJC -- a triple-overtime loss to Panola in the regional tournament at Kilgore.
While Marquis was hesitant back then to ticket Butler for the NBA -- "I think at this level if you start talking to kids about the NBA, you're selling them a pipe dream that could scar them for the rest of their lives" -- the veteran junior college coach saw the potential.
"He has great shoulders. He's strong, he's wide, he has a commanding presence," Marquis said. "Most 18- to 19-year-old kids that come here aren't built like that.
"His calmness. His ability to be calm in the middle of a crisis was way beyond most 18- to 19-year-olds that come to a junior college. He's just very mature on the court.
"His basketball IQ was second to none. There wasn't a position on the floor he couldn't play and become successful at.
"You knew he was going to be very, very good, (but) was everything else going to fall in place? That was a tough call," Marquis said.
Butler, who came to TJC as an academic qualifier, signed with Marquette after his freshman season and played three years for the Golden Eagles. They made the NCAA tournament all three years out of the rugged Big East, averaged 23 victories a season and advanced to the Sweet 16 last March.
A team captain the last two years, Butler averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a senior. He also made 20 of 58 3-pointers.
After his college career ended, Butler began trying out for NBA teams. He participated in the NBA Draft Combine and was named the MVP of the 59th annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.
Butler's draft stock began to rise after the Portsmouth event, where in three games he averaged 18.7 points, had 12 assists to three turnovers, and made all 18 of his free throws with NBA representatives watching.
"I think he's got the body and the mentality to be one of those 10-year NBA veterans," said Marquis, who spoke to a representative from at least half of the 30 NBA teams about Butler.
"His personality ... there's not a team in the league that he can't go to and not fit in. Plus, he works so hard on both ends of the floor. I know general managers love that about him. He just competes every possession defensively."HOLLYWOOD STORY
Only recently was it revealed that Butler was kicked out of his Tomball home by his mother when he was 13. He had no place to turn, and basically no family to call his own.
Butler told his life story, somewhat reluctantly, to Chad Ford of ESPN.com in a feature that came out this month. According to the story, Butler bounced around from house to house for several years until a family of nine took him in before his senior year of high school.
Michelle Lambert, who Butler now considers his mom, walked Butler onto the court for Senior Night at Marquette this year.
While mystery still surrounds why Butler was left homeless at 13, there is no debating that he was a class act at TJC. And his academic standing from high school was good enough to qualify for NCAA four-year institutions.
"The most amazing thing about Jimmy is -- if you're around him five minutes -- you wouldn't think anything along those lines ever happened to him," Marquis said.
Butler referenced his parental situation only twice to Marquis, who said he was aware of Butler's background before signing him.
"It's emotional, it's gripping, it's a great thing for the media to latch onto," Marquis said. "But he never one time used it for an excuse or a crutch. I've got a lot of respect for him the way he has handled that.
"I think he faced some things that most kids in East Texas at 13 and 14 don't have to go through. He's seen some adversity and craziness in his life at a young age, and learned how to deal with it then ... some of these other situations (in a basketball game are no big deal)."
Butler tweeted that he doesn't want anybody feeling sorry for him and that it "felt good to stop holding everything inside for once."
Updated Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 10:04 a.m. CDT