Butler Coming Full Circle

He's been a lightning rod, but he's also been a beacon of hope. Jamar Butler, Ohio State's 6-1 point guard and senior leader had arguably the best week of his career to finish the regular season and keep Ohio State's NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Statistically speaking, Butler has had an assault on the OSU record-books. Kyle Lamb examines Butler's career.

To say Jamar Butler's career has been a roller-coaster ride would be a drastic understatement. Even in high school, the Lima Shawnee guard was topsy-turvy.

As Ohio State (19-12, 10-8 Big Ten) prepares for a first round Big Ten Tournament battle with Michigan St Friday, who the Buckeyes just beat 64-53 five days ago, Butler is seeking cement what will go down as a highly successful legacy in Columbus.

Though as a sophomore, Butler verbally committed to play for Bob Huggins and the Cincinnati Bearcats, under then Ohio State-head coach Jim O'Brien, he later changed his mind (and his commitment). Butler joined AAU teammate Matt Terwilliger in vowing to play for the flagship university in Ohio.

Much to his surprise, having already signed a letter of intent just six months prior, O'Brien was terminated by Ohio State leaving Butler just three weeks away from enrolling and without a coach.

Butler, the 2004 Ohio Mr. Basketball winner, averaged 31.6 points per game as a senior at Shawnee High School. He made first-team All-Ohio in addition to winning the most prestigious of all awards in the Buckeye state.

Finally, after a few weeks of summer classes, the Buckeyes found Butler a coach. Thad Matta was hired the first week of July,

His freshman season, like many rookies, he had plenty of good (and bad) memories. Playing the role of back-up to senior Tony Stockman, Butler averaged 19 minutes in 31 games, scoring just 3.6 points but dishing out 2.3 assists per game in limited action. His shooting, which was a crux in high school, was surprisingly subpar (23 percent from 3-point range).

It might be possible Butler almost never made it to his sophomore season at Ohio State. Perhaps playing for a coach had not recruited him to play there was an adjustment. Maybe his deferring minutes to the more experienced, but enigmatic Stockman was frustrating. And of course, in December of that year, the Buckeyes learned the rest of the season would be played without any hope of postseason play, thanks to a self-imposed banishment.

But he did, and Ohio State was grateful.

The next season, the Buckeyes were surprise winners of the outright Big Ten Championship. Behind Butler, first team All-Big Ten (10.1 PPG and 4.6 APG) and senior center Terence Dials, Ohio State earned a No. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Butler's outside shooting improved dramatically, finishing 41 percent from behind the arc.

The Buckeye run in the NCAA Tournament was short-lived. After barely escaping 15-seed Davidson in the first round, Ohio State was tormented by Georgetown in the second round, on the Buckeyes' home turf (for all intents and purposes) – Dayton.

The 2006-07 season brought about change. Despite being named, theoretically, the top point guard in the entire conference the previous year, Butler was asked to change positions. With the arrival of point guard Mike Conley Jr., Matta wanted a potent two-point guard lineup with Conley as the catalyst and Butler's shooting prowess in tow.

On their way to a second consecutive Big Ten Championship, 35-4 finish and appearance in the National Championship game, Butler showed spurts of greatness, but as a whole, never looked comfortable in his new role. His offensive averages dropped nearly across the board (8.5 PPG, 3.6 APG, 37.6 3-pt percent) from his sophomore season. Still, by season's end, he had embraced the talents of his backcourt cohort Conley, and was greatly disappointed at his sudden departure to the NBA draft.

Fast forwarding to just 12 days ago, it was now Butler's team.

But facing a humiliating road loss to Minnesota, and the NCAA Tournament at-large bid chances quickly evaporating after four consecutive Big Ten losses, Butler and fellow senior Terwilliger called a team meeting. After having some previous behind-the-scenes conflicts with his team and coaches, Butler delivered what reportedly was a heartfelt, emotional plea to his teammates: let's get to the NCAA Tournament.

They listened and delivered.

In one calendar week, the Buckeyes knocked off co-leader Purdue and Michigan St both. For the first time, perhaps all season, Butler's quiet, reserved demeanor had turned into a large grin from ear to ear. And the at-large chances, which were on life support, suddenly had become a real possibility.

Maybe all it took was a wake-up call. Maybe the troops were just waiting for a rallying cry. But whatever it was, when Ohio State needed it most, Butler stepped up with perhaps his most dominating week of his career: 45 points, 11-of-19 from the field, four assists and 16-of-16 from the foul line. It earned him Big Ten Player of the Week.

And it gave him another first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, and second-team by the coaches.

"Jamar deserved to make first team All-Big Ten," Matta said this week in a statement. "His hard work over his career and especially this season has paid off with all the Ohio State records he has set and now earning a spot on the All-Big Ten team. If you look at the guards over the years who have earned that honor, it shows what a difficult and remarkable accomplishment it is to earn all-league honors."

 

Currently, Butler sits No. 27 on the all-time Ohio State scoring list at 1,215 points, just surpassing Luke Witte on Sunday. With potentially as many as 5-6 games left (or more) with a spectacular postseason run, he could wind up knocking on the door for finishing just outside the top 10.

 

As it stands, he's already passed Buckeye legends Brad Sellers, Lawrence Funderburke, Scoonie Penn and Bill Andreas, and with just nine more points, will pass John Havilicek.

 

With 545 career assists, Butler is now the all-time leader over Kelvin Ransey (516) by a large margin. This season, Butler leads the Big Ten with 6.0 assists per game.

 

In addition to Butler's passing, his shooting has also left its mark. Butler is the all-time Ohio State leader in 3-point field goals made (222). He has blown past Brent Darby and Scoonie Penn, who's now tied for No. 2 on the list with 153 made 3-pointers.

 

At 37.1 percent career from behind the arc, Butler is No. 5 in shooting percentage. At 86.7 percent from the free throw line, Butler would finish No. 2 all-time in free throw percentage. He's already shattering the season record at Ohio State, shooting 94 percent from the charity stripe. With 10 more steals, Butler will crack the top 10 in career thefts.

 

With over 100 career wins, Butler will go down as the successful individual in Ohio State history. Quietly, he's already been one of the best all-around.

 

He's got two Big Ten titles to his credit and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. And it very well could have been three. Last year, they also won the Big Ten Tournament title, and hope to add both another one of those and another NCAA Tournament to their resume.

 

In total, he's already earned his reputation as one of the greats. Amazingly, as a scorer, he probably never really scratched the surface as to his potential.

 

This weekend, his teammates have the chances to give Butler the finish he deserves. In a season of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, even for a young, inexperienced team, Ohio State is right where they want – riding the back of its senior leader.

 

Never mind the bumpy ride getting there.

 

 


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