To be JC Butler the last four years was to be a marked young man.
It was widely known that his father, Caron, was a former NBA All-Star. Certainly anyone who inherited those genes was expected to captivate crowds with an array of dunks and other big-time moves.
And when Butler simply played in the flow with his Prairie School teammates and didn’t wow spectators who were expecting so much more, he heard the familiar taunt: “Overrated! Overrated!”
Someone who wasn’t emotionally prepared to handle this might have allowed that negative energy to work against him. Instead, Butler transformed it into positive energy and made himself the All-Racine County Player of the Year.
It wasn’t even close. The coaches who attended the All-County meeting simply conceded the senior was the choice rather than go through the formality of a vote. And for Butler, who received the honor 20 years after his father did following his only full season at Park High School, it was a nice way to end a memorable career.
“It just shows all the hard work I put in with my teammates, coaches and everyone around the program,” Butler said.
The 6-foot-5 forward leaves Prairie with a number of noteworthy accomplishments:
- He became the first player in the history of high school boys basketball in Racine County to reach 2,000 career points.
- He became only the second boys player from Prairie to be named the county’s player of the year. The other was Jeff Smith, who earned the honor in March 1980 — the same month Caron Butler was born.
- While a coveted state championship eluded Butler, he fulfilled his goal of helping leaving Prairie’s program in better shape than when he arrived. In his four years as the centerpiece, the Hawks’ successive records were 10-14, 16-9, 21-4 and 21-5.
- Butler earned first-team Associated Press All-State honors on what was largely considered to be one of the state’s deepest pools of talent in several years. He was also a unanimous selection on the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 4 All-State team.
And it all goes back to turning that negative energy into a positive energy. Instead of consuming himself with trying to live up to his father’s reputation every time he walked onto a court, he simply focused on being himself and helping Prairie win.
The rest took care of itself.
“It’s been a recurring feature of my whole life,” Butler said. “It’s not really something that I really had to adapt to because I’ve always been used to it. The more pressure I was under, the more pressure there was for me to perform well. So I just wanted to perform well for myself.”
Ask any coach who had to draw up strategy to contain Butler and they’ll likely say it was a pretty futile exercise.
“We played against Butler twice this year and we played pretty darn good against them,” Whitefish Bay Dominican coach Jim Gosz said. “We played well, but they took it to us and my coaches were wondering how we got beat.
“And then we picked up the stat sheet and Butler had 32 points, 11 rebounds, was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line, and had four blocked shots. And then we started to blame who was supposed to be our money guy because he didn’t even score in the second half and we figured out Butler was guarding him.
“He’s an all-around player and you don’t even notice he’s on the court. He’ll do a dunk and he’s not pointing at his biceps, running by our bench or inciting the crowd. He just does it the good old way you’re supposed to.”
Meanwhile, Butler has one proud father. Caron Butler lives within one hour of California-Irvine, where JC will be playing next season, and he couldn’t be more impressed with what he’s seen from his son — both on the court and off.
“JC is unique in his own way,” Caron Butler said. “He’s special and the reason why he’s even more special than myself or any other guy is he had the pressure of having to be that already. There were expectations, but we were able to see what he was able to accomplish.
“He did all those things by taking the doubt people had on him and using it as fuel to work harder.”