Gone are the familiar faces of the Three Amigos – James, Matthews, and McNeal. And left to replace one of the most talented Marquette recruiting classes in recent memory is an impressive class of freshmen, along with five returning players from a team that went 25-10 a year ago.
Undoubtedly, senior Lazar Hayward will be expected to assume much of the burden as Marquette searches to remedy its losses in scoring and leadership. While many will cite Hayward as the most important element for success in the 2009-10 season, the continued emergence of Jimmy Butler cannot be understated for the Golden Eagles.
A transfer from Tyler (Texas) Junior College a year ago, Butler emerged as Marquette's sixth man and proved to be an effective change-of-pace off the bench. Playing 19.6 minutes per game, Butler averaged 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds on the year. But over the final eight games, and against some of MU's stiffest competition, Butler scored in double-digits four times and grabbed nine or more rebounds on three occasions.
One of Butler's most impressive efforts of last season came against Villanova in the second round of the Big East Torunament. There, he played a season-high 30 minutes and found multiple ways to contribute. Butler shot three-of-five from the field while using his large frame to get to the line early and often and converting 13-of-16 opportunities for a season-high 19 points. He also chipped in three rebounds and three assists in helping Marquette erase a 16-point halftime deficit.
At 6'6"and solidly built, Butler fits the mold of a typical small forward. His length and athleticism, though, provide him the ability to play multiple positions and allows Coach Williams the flexibility of creating several different lineups. This was most evident last season when Marquette went small, playing three guards in the backcourt and placing Butler alongside Hayward in the frontcourt.
Although he always seemed to "do the dirty work" last season, Butler's previous career numbers indicate he is far from a mere scrapper. In his final year at Tyler, he averaged over 18 points per game, shot 54.8 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from beyond the arc, and was subsequently named a NJCAA honorable mention All-American.
Butler often deferred to the Golden Eagles' veterans guards on the offensive end of the floor last season, but given his skill set it would be easy to see him featured as an off-guard in a three-guard lineup, or perhaps even at the two-guard if Marquette decides to go with a bigger lineup.
At the end of the day, Jimmy Butler brings Buzz Williams a combination of two very valuable things this season: versatility and experience.
As one of just five returning players from last season, Butler will be expected to bring not only his basketball aptitude to the court but also veteran leadership to help tutor a youthful squad. He will also be called upon to play more minutes, look to score more often, and take on tougher defensive assignments. While it is still uncertain whether he will be in the starting line-up or resume his role as sixth man, one thing remains evident – if the way Jimmy Butler progressed last season is any sign of how he will continue to develop as a player, there is no doubt that he is set to have a phenomenal junior season.
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