The second-year athlete flashed the outside shot, ability to drive past foes, finish around the basket, get to the foul line, and defend both forwards and guards. The seeming jack-of-all-trades, Butler indeed mastered some, like his knack for scoring against nearly every defender on drives. Whether giving up height or quickness or raw power, whatever the foe lacked, Butler exploited. Too big to come out without Butler blowing past? He'll shoot it. Quicker than the 6-7, 225-pounder? He'd drive one direction, then, when the opposing player went to that side, spin or lay it up and over. Outgunned by brutes, quickness and his underrated explosiveness prevailed, two points for the good guys.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins loves those abilities, as does Butler. The issue is that because he can do so much, he is asked to do so much. The Newark native might not be set at a position – especially in Huggin's no-name offensive slots – for at least another year, if ever. It's increasingly difficult to master any one spot, getting all the finite details and the miniscule things that elevate games. Butler will perform well. He has enough talent and smarts to do so. But with him being penciled into various areas, his game will have more of an overall feel.
"I had a year of learning one thing, and now we have a new coach and I'm learning and trying to understand and see where he is coming from," Butler said. "It is coming along good, but I will always have a lot to learn. I am still young; I am still learning everything he wants me to learn and I feel exactly like a freshman right now, Last year was a learning experience for me and I got some experience, more than most freshmen usually get. But then we got a new coach and it's still a learning process in me understanding what he wants me to do."
Huggins has attempted to simplify what he could, which is saying much considering the preseason has been one of simplicity and basics, if nothing else. Butler will be on the front line some, and he will be at a guard slot some, depending on the opposing team's lineup and WVU's foul situation. He will again be asked to guard a wider assortment and array of foes than perhaps any other player, meaning the uber swingman has to know and understand more than any other Mountaineer players besides the pure guards, like Darris Nichols and Joe Mazzulla, the primary ball handlers and, thus, offensive jumpstarters.
"I have the same skills, and those that helped me last year will help me this year," Butler said. "I can do a little bit of everything. By me being a little bit more versatile, it helps in this offense. (Huggins) doesn't want just one thing. He wants you to be able to do a number of things. I think me being versatile helped."
Huggins is preaching such qualities, knowing that they will be necessities when the 31-game season begins on Nov. 16. The Mountaineers face Arkansas-Monticello in their opening game of the Legends Classic, then play Prairie View A&M on Nov. 18. The first two rounds will be held in Morgantown, the semifinals, finals and third-place consolations game in Butler's hometown of Newark.
"My job is just to give them the best opportunity to win," Huggins said. "Jamie (Smalligan, WVU's only true center) gets in foul trouble, we are awful small. It depends upon who we play. I think there will be a lot of instances where we could play Joe (Alexander) and Wellington (Smith) and Da'Sean together on the front line."
Butler says he has become more alert in his on-the-ball defense. When Huggins arrived, Butler was getting beat nearly every time to the basket. The preponderance of zone under Beilein, combined with his lone year at the collegiate level and the abilities of players like Nichols and Mazzulla to make one look foolish on defense, has not allowed Butler to become accustomed to straight-up man at this pace. The sophomore has improved drastically over the preseason, and is now limiting the drives against him.
"It's a smaller number, but I still get beat," Butler said. "(Huggins) stresses it a lot. If you want to play, you have to play defense. There is no way around it. He hasn't asked me to do that much other than guard the perimeter, which I am going to be playing on. But that's like last year, coach Beilein did not ask me to (defend a variety of opponents' positions). It just came up while I was guarding people, and I go out there and do what I have to do for our team to be successful."
Butler, who has added more than 25 pounds since coming to West Virginia, averaged 10.1 points per game in playing in all 36 outings in 2006-07. He averaged 23.3 minutes off the bench, a number that will increase this year, and seemed to elevate his play against home-state foes. His career-high is 21 points against Seton Hall, and he scored 17 against Rutgers during a one-week stretch in which he seemed to fully integrate into the former system. Huggins is hoping that trend holds when West Virginia travels to New Jersey to face No. 7 Tennessee in the Legends' semifinals Nov. 23.