Creative Artistry

When Da'Sean Butler drives to the basket, it's almost impossible to predict what kind of shot he is going to produce.

While this Mountaineer team isn't short of creativity around the hoop (options range from Joe Alexander's soaring dunks to Darris Nichols' hanging floaters), Butler is almost always guaranteed to come up with something that you won't see in a classic instructional video, or even on many highlight reels of today's stars. Using an array of pivots, spins and jump stops, Butler creates space to get shots away against bigger and taller opponents. Those attempts are often unique as well, as Butler flips underhand tosses and finger rolls at the hoop from a variety of angles.

Surely, those moves and shots have been part of his arsenal for a long time, correct? After all, Butler unleashes them with all the smoothness of someone who has practiced a particular skill for years, if not longer.

"A lot of those things I have learned here," Butler said as he dispelled the notion that he brought many of those shots with him to West Virginia. "Coach Beilein is a real big pivot man, and big on finishing lay-ups. He is stressing those things with me. I think I have just caught on quickly, and I always try to do what he says, because I want to play."

It might be hard, at first to reconcile one-on-one skills with Beilein's system, which stresses sharing the ball, passing, cutting and screening, but in fact there is a solid mesh point between the two. If the opportunity is there, Beilein encourages players to attack the basket at any point during an offensive set, and wants players such as Butler, Darris Nichols and Joe Alexander to do it as frequently as possible. In addition to breaking up patterns and making the Mountaineers even more difficult to defend, having players that can get to the rim gives WVU more weapons when the shot clock is winding down. So you won't see any teeth-gnashing from Beilein when Butler attacks the basket, even if the shots do look a bit unconventional.

The precocious forward also credits his teammates for helping him learn to incorporate the Beilein fundamentals (the pivot, ball position) into his game.

"Playing with Frank and Darris has helped me with that, and of course the coaches too. They have the confidence in me. Right now, there's nothing I can do but learn, and just play as hard as I can."

As he masters new skills, Butler unleashes them in games, but everything that you see on the floor hasn't been mastered in practice just yet. Sometimes, like a good jazz magician, Butler simply goes with the flow.

"It's a little bit of both, really," Butler said thoughtfully after being questioned about the way he unveils new moves. "If coach tells me I need to go to the basket and try to score I will do it, and I will use whatever I have to do that. At other times, I might be just trying to work the ball around, and whatever comes to me comes to me."

If that sounds like an artist trying to describe the process of getting ideas and executing them on canvas, it might be pretty close to the mark. When Butler is driving to the basket, he doesn't have a preconceived idea of the move he's going to make. He just selects one and makes it according to the circumstances – and more often than not, the pick has been the right one.

By the same token, Butler doesn't have a game plan against particular defenders. Sure, if Pitt's Aaron Gray is guarding him, he's more likely to put a jumper or try to drive around him on the wing rather than positing up and pivoting his way to the basket, but most of the time its an improvisational thing. One tactic he does try to employ is differentiation – that is, not falling into a pattern.

"We are always looking for outside shots first, and that is what coach stresses to us," Butler said. "Outside shots first, then go to the basket. But the, he also says, ‘Do one thing, then do the opposite.' So one time I will look shot first, then go to the basket, and next time I might try to drive first. I'm just trying to get the defense off balance."

For Butler, who often finishes shots with his body contorted at impossible angles, balance is certainly important in more ways than one. And as he continues to master the Beilein offense and add to his own arsenal of moves, it's certain that the balance he achieves between those two skills will wind up making him one of the top players in the Big East conference.


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