A Bounce Off The Bench

Da'Sean Butler has provided a rarity off the bench for West Virginia this year: Negligible drop-off in talent and a second wave of energy and scoring ability.

The true freshman, a 6-7, 205-pound forward out of Newark, N.J., brings a completely different talent set than did four-year sixth-man Patrick Beilein. While Beilein had an excellent outside shot, he struggled initially on defense and never reached Butler's current ability to create both inside and out. Butler has the length and quickness to be a nightmare for opposing teams at the top of WVU's trademark 1-3-1 defense, then can transition easily to offense. Like Joe Alexander, the player for whom Butler most often enters, any steal can lead to a dunk at the other end, or a heady pass to an outletting wing man.

Butler's scoring was immediately noticed. The Bloomfield Tech grad made an immediate impact in his first game, scoring 11 versus Mount St. Mary's. He chased that effort with a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds against Slippery Rock, then was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll Nov. 20, little more than one month into his career. And, after one semester, he holds a 3.2-plus grade point average, which is about the same average as his number of boards per game.

"I love all he does," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said. "He gets steals, he gets offensive rebounds, he gets defensive rebounds. He has just assimilated to college basketball faster than any of our other players. We didn't know how he would adjust, to college basketball, to West Virginia basketball. But he has been yelled at in practice and he has responded, he has been instructed and responded. He is not starting, but he is giving us 20 quality minutes per game."

Beilein said he does not foresee Butler ever breaking into the starting five, which is a largely overrated labeling anyway. Better to look at the players on the floor at key times, or when the 8-1 Mountaineers are most productive. Butler is assuredly in that latter category, and much of that is because of the impact he has off the bench, and not despite it, despite what some might argue. Beilein, a major sucker for a sixth man that can provide a punch, said he values the length and shooting of Joe Alexander in the lineup initially, then likes the transition to Butler, who provides better quickness. He nixed any idea of sitting a center in place of Butler.

"I'd rather come off the bench and see what I can do," Butler said. " I can watch the pace and see what I have to do when I get in there rather than going off instinct. Coach has the experienced guys in there because they have been in the games before. Frank Young, Darris Nichols and Rob Summers, that's why coach has them in there, because they have played at this level before. They can play on instinct. I am a freshman. It takes time to get instincts as good as their's. I like to take my time and watch."

Butler largely mimics Alexander's play on defense. He acknowledges he lacks the overall game intelligence of Alexander, and his ability to read opposing offenses. But Butler has shown a knack for getting to loose balls, totaling 17 steals for third-best on a team with 109 overall. Butler has averaged 8.4 points, while hitting 46.3 percent from the field. There are freshman signs, however, like his tendency to turn the ball over (he has 14 against eight assists) and his six-for-24 shooting from beyond the arc and 50 percent stroke from the foul line.

"His shooting has not been what it could be, and he knows that," Beilein said. "But he has been in in tight games and played well, he has been in in other situations and responded well."

Butler has tallied 23 points and nine rebounds to Alexander's 48 and 16, respectively, in the last four games since the Old Spice Classic. Summers has 16 boards in that time. All three should fine that work easier on Wednesday against The Citadel (2-9). The starting lineup shows just one player who is at least 6-6. The other four are 6-2 or shorter. The team has lost nine of its last 10 since an opening win over Ohio Valley. West Virginia's lineup shows three players at least 6-6, including Alexander and Summers.

"When I come in for Joe or Frank, I want to come in and work hard," Butler said. "When Joe comes off the floor, he is out of breath. For me to come into the game after (Alexander) as a freshman is an honor. Coach knows what he is doing."


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