TOC: Butch shines on Friday night

CHAPEL HILL -- Facing a talented and physical opponent, Brian Butch battled under the boards and scored almost at will on Friday night at the Smith Center.

The Southeast Pump and Run squad featured man-child Jackie Butler, who flashed his capped teeth and roared as he tore through the low blocks, and Mike Williams, a strong Top 10 sophomore. The tandem was expected to be a handful in the post, and they were, but the lean Butch and his Fox Valley Skillz team prevailed, 82-80, in overtime.

After getting his first shot attempt swatted by Butler, Butch hit all seven of his shot attempts the rest of the half -- a lay-in cutting across the middle, a long jumper from the very top of the key, a short hook, a mid-range turnaround, a jumper in the lane, a long turnaround on the baseline and finally a tip-in. Add in 2-for-3 from the free-throw line and he totaled 16 first-half points.

"Offensively, he's so darn gifted for a big kid – much more so than most kids," said Skillz head coach Ritchie Davis. "He can score with his back to the basket, but until he develops more lower body strength, offensively he can really face up and shoot the ball."

And strength was a major factor in Butch's less impressive second half. There's no doubt the seven-footer has remarkable scoring skills, including a soft, accurate touch, great hands and very good foot work, but strong, physical opponents are going to give him trouble at this stage.

"It's not that he doesn't like contact," remarked expert Dave Telep. "He likes contact, he's just not ready for it."

Butch had three second-half shots from close range that were blocked, not because they were bad moves to the hoop, but rather on account of him being out-muscled.

"As soon as he puts on weight, he's going to finish those," an AAU coach said after one of the blocks.

While he's put on over 30 pounds in the last two years, there's room for another 30 to his 215-pound frame. With that added weight, Butch will be capable of being a top-notch college center -- and a pro thereafter.

On defense, there are some notable weaknesses, such as lateral movement and quickness off the ground, but again, the biggest improvement on both ends of the court will come in the weight room.

He capped off the night with an impressive tip-on and a driving lay-up in traffic -- and one -- to complete the upset win, finishing the night with 28 points (11-18 FG, 6-8 FT) and six rebounds, by our count.

Butch passed the Tournament of Champions' first tough test with flying colors, but more highly regarded physical opponents await on Saturday, as he faces the Tim Thomas Playaz (Darryl Watkins) and the Middlesex Magic (Hassan Fofana).

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