Entering his final season with the Buckeyes, Butler is the one proven commodity returning from last season's national runner-up squad. Tasked with being a leader last year as one of just four scholarship returning players on the roster, the soft-spoken guard typically preferred to let his play on the court speak louder than his words.
The message he likely sent, then, when he spent the summer back in his hometown of Lima, Ohio, instead of working out with his teammates in Columbus, left a few of his teammates wondering about his intentions.
"To be honest, it was (a distraction) because we thought that since we're trying to do something, to win the Big Ten again, three times, that we need him to be there as a team," senior forward Othello Hunter said. "We need him to come there and support us because he's supposed to be the leader."
This season, the Buckeyes have six new faces in the program – more than half of the 11 scholarship places on the roster. One year ago, they had five new players, making the team's offseason workouts even more important as so many new talents struggled to mesh with each other.
While that situation was again true this summer, Butler instead chose to work out on his own.
"Most of the guys are like, ‘If the leader's not going to do it, why should we do it?' " Hunter said. "We talked to each other and were like, ‘We just need to do it, so don't worry about him. He's going to come in here and hopefully come in and shows us what's up.' "
While they might not be pleased with his methods, the Buckeyes can not argue with the results. Knowing he will need to carry a heavy load this season, Butler has dropped 20 pounds and now tips the scales at 185 pounds, 10 pounds below his playing weight as a high school senior.
The weight loss had little impact on his strength, however. Butler was able to bench press 185 pounds 26 times last season, and with his smaller frame he can now do 25 reps with 185 pounds.
For those reasons, Matta said he is not at all displeased with his senior point guard.
"He did what I asked him to do this summer," he said. "He was around a lot more than, people acted like they didn't see him at all this summer. He was in Columbus and was working out. The fact that he's dropped the weight that we asked him – he's actually dropped more weight than we've asked him to – he's shot the ball extremely well, he's in great physical shape."
When asked about his role on the team this season, Butler referred to it as "my team" despite his absence during the summer.
"I wanted to get rested a little bit for personal reasons," he said. "I needed to do my own thing. It was time for me to do my own thing and try to better my game myself.
"I'm the leader of this team. I'm going to run this team. I'm a senior captain. That's what I'm going to do."
Although team captains have not yet been named, Matta responded with "good" when told that Butler was describing himself as one.
His decision to work out at home might have partially stemmed from the fact that Butler is on track to graduate this spring with a degree in African American & African studies. With no need to take classes during the summer, his athletic scholarship would not have paid for his room and board.
Whatever the reason, sophomore David Lighty – who missed about a month and a half of summer workouts while he played overseas for USA Basketball – said the team is behind Butler after seeing the body of work he put in at home.
"He's working hard just like us," he said. "He comes in and you see he lost 20 pounds. You can't lose 20 pounds sitting there doing nothing. No one really had a negative attitude about that."