The first male high school basketball player in Racine County history to score more than 2,000 points has a total of nine so far.
A player who used to be a workhorse for Prairie during crunch time has played exactly 27 minutes in six college games.
His days of being a All-State double-double machine in high school are over and JC Butler is back to waiting his turn for the University of California-Irvine, an NCAA Division I program 40 miles south of Los Angeles.
The Anteaters are off to a 9-2 start, but Butler’s role is to mostly watch and learn as teammates the likes of Tommy Rutherford, Eyassu Worku, Max Hazzard and Jonathan Galloway carry the load.
About the only thing that didn’t change for the 6-foot-5 Butler in the last year is his uniform number (0).
“I knew it would be like this to an extent, but I think I can establish a role out here just by hard work and sticking to the plan,” Butler said.
That’s what UC Irvine coach Russell Turner wants to hear. Turner, a former assistant with the Golden State Warriors and at the collegiate level with Stanford and Wake Forest, sees considerable potential in Butler.
It’s just a matter of Butler waiting his turn.
Butler’s father, Caron, made an immediate impact at the college level and was an NBA lottery pick after playing two years at the University of Connecticut from 2000-02. Clearly, JC Butler is on a different trajectory than his father, but that doesn’t mean he can’t develop into a special player at the Division I level.
“I couldn’t be happier that JC is a part of our program,” Turner said. “In his short time here, he’s already made a great impact, I think, and his future is very, very bright.”
Butler, who is two inches shorter than his father, might not have the size to mix it it up inside at the Division I level. And that’s not what Turner is expecting.
“I think he’s a perimeter player,” Turner said. “Whether you call him a wing or a guard doesn’t much matter to me. What I think he has a special ability to do is be a real high-level defensive presence. That’s something our program values.
“That’s not all he can do, but I’ve got high hopes for him, even this year, to develop into an additional perimeter defensive stopper because I think he can guard smaller guys and bigger guys on the perimeter because of his natural instincts and ability on the defensive end.”
Despite his limited playing time so far, Butler has already experienced an eventual college career. UC Irvine made an exhibition trip to South Korea from Aug. 5-12 and played games against South Korea, Japan, the Phillipines, Chinese Taipei and Russia.
UC Irvine went 4-1 on that trip, losing only to Russia, and Butler averaged 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He had 17 points, four rebounds and two steals in that 92-91 loss to Russia.
“I think when we went to Korea, I was playing pretty good, so that was a good moment for me,” Butler said.
Added Turner, “Because of injuries, JC was a freshman who had to play a lot of minutes. In those minutes, I was impressed and a little surprised at how effective he was able to be. I knew he was a first-team All-State player in Wisconsin, but, typically, it’s tough for a freshman to adjust to the demands of the college game and I thought he did that better than I thought he would this summer.”
The other end of that gamut came early Nov. 9 when Butler sat the entire time when UC Irvine edged Texas A&M 74-73 at College Station, Texas. For four years at Prairie, Butler was used to having an impact in these types of games, so that was hard to take.
“But I trusted what coach had in store,” Butler said.
While Butler continues to get things figured out at the college level — he’s leaning toward pursuing a sociology degree, by the way — he has a strong support system.
He still stays in frequent contact with such former Prairie teammates as Troy Mikaelian and Logan Krekling. But his biggest supporter lives just 60 miles to the south in Woodland Hills, and that’s his father.
“He’s pretty much at every home game,” Butler said of Caron. “We pretty much talk every day.”
His father is a welcome voice because JC admits that the college life has been a huge adjustment.
“You have to take care of your academics first and then you have to focus on the athletic side, too,” he said. “So it’s pretty tough at times, but it’s fun at the same time.
“He (Turner) pushes you to be your best.”
Turner intends to do just that with Butler.
“I’ve got nine guys who could legitimately claim to be starters right now because of the minutes they all play,” Turner said. “That’s been the issue. How do I manage the depth that we have on this team? And if you look at our stat sheet, you’ll see that we don’t have anybody averaging double figures.
“So I’ve asked all of our players to make sacrifices and JC is one of the guys going through that. There are times when he might be the best option for us for an defensive possession, especially. Offensively, I think he still has a lot to learn as a college perimeter player because he can’t just rely on his athleticism.
“So, I’m really happy with him. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to see that that could be possible when you look at the number of minutes JC’s played. But he’s valuable to us and he’s getting better. And I think that’s the story.”