At first, JC Butler was content to be a role player.
His father, Caron, had already been a multiple NBA All-Star by the time JC first played for The Prairie School boys basketball team as a freshman in 2014. But JC didn’t feel a need to be the go-to guy, despite his bloodline, when he got his start with the Hawks.
Fast forward to the night of last Feb. 17, when the 6-foot-5 forward grabbed an alley-oop pass from Logan Krekling and slammed the ball home against Chicago De La Salle in the Johnson Athletic Center. With that basket, Butler became the first player in the history of Racine County boys basketball to reach 2,000 career points.
Butler, now a freshman at the University of California-Irvine, finished his career with 2,090 points.
Of the top 10 local sports stories of the year as selected by The Journal Times sports staff, Butler’s career scoring record was ranked No. 5. The stories were chosen based on news value and impact on the community.
“What’s funny is JC was never really a scorer until his sophomore year of high school,” Prairie coach Jason Atanasoff said. “Throughout middle school (at Prairie), he was a good rebounder and he was overly unselfish to the point where we had to encourage him to shoot more.
“Him and Logan did a lot of the dirty work. They set a lot of screens and things like that. And, all of a sudden in his sophomore year, his whole mentality changed.”
A couple of things had happened. Butler had spent the summer prior to his sophomore year working on his game with his father at Caron Butler’s home in the Los Angeles area. He also came to understand that Prairie needed him to step up as a scorer.
“He never really became a selfish player,” Atanasoff said. “He just had a mentality of picking his spots and understanding that we needed him to be the guy.”
After averaging 10.7 points as a freshman, Butler nearly doubled that to 19.7 as a sophomore. And then he increased it to 26.0 as a junior and 26.6 as a senior to join 1987 Horlick graduate Sonja Henning (2,219 points) as the only county players to surpass 2,000 career points.
Butler also became the first male player from Prairie to be named the All-Racine County Player of the Year in boys basketball. And he earned first-team Associated Press All-State honors in what was an especially memorable season for talent in Wisconsin.
About all that didn’t happen for Butler was Prairie fulfilling its goal of winning the WIAA Division 4 championship. The Hawks’ season came to a sad end March 10 when they lost 60-50 to eventual state champion Manitowoc Roncalli in a sectional championship.
“That would have been the ultimate,” Atanasoff said. “That team will be remembered for a long, long time in Prairie history and JC will certainly be remembered in the city as a whole for just coming through and kind of setting the basketball scene here on fire.
“People came to watch our team as a whole, but whether we were playing at home or on the road, the place was filled. It was the JC Butler effect. He has such an infectious personality and I think people were just drawn to watching him.”