After suffering a foot injury early in the season, the 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman forward on the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team had his name thrust into the spotlight by ESPN commentator Doug Gotlieb, who called Butch the most overrated player in the Big Ten. That prompted an emphatic response from UW coach Bo Ryan, who cheered Butch's work ethic and disclosed, with Butch's approval, that in addition to dealing with his own injuries, Butch's mother had recently battled cancer.
However, Butch's life on the basketball court soon began to turn around. On Feb. 2 against Northwestern, Butch played 14 minutes and had arguably his most complete game to date. But within a week of scoring 12 points (including 2-of-2 from behind the 3-point arc) and contributing two assists and two steals, Butch was sidelined with mononucleosis before the Feb. 9 game against Iowa.
"I was feeling pretty sick at practice [the Monday and Tuesday before the Iowa game]," Butch said recently. "That's just one of those things as an athlete, you just kind of think it's nothing. Then all of a sudden you get diagnosed with something like that, it shocks you."
Sitting the bench during the crucial push at the end of the season was difficult. With his size and versatility, Butch could have helped the Badgers match up with Illinois' James Augustine and Michigan State's Paul Davis. The road to recovery, though, has been even harder as the Badgers prepare for the NCAA Tournament. Butch saw minimal playing time during the Big Ten Tournament, totaling 14 minutes over three games, and scoring just four points. But with mono requiring a slow and often tedious recovery, Butch said he is just happy to get on the court.
"When my jersey number's called, I go in there and I try to give them what I've got," he said. "If it's 10 minutes, 15, five — whatever, I'm ready."
Butch said he likely got the virus from someone in class or from shaking hands with someone, joking that he has not "had enough time to get it any other way." He remains patient and positive as he attempts to reach his full potential, but he acknowledged that he is not quite at 100 percent yet.
"I got hit with it pretty hard," Butch said. "I had to go home for a week. I'm trying to get my stamina back, I'm trying to get my legs back, I'm trying to get it all back right now. Some days I feel great, but some days I feel sluggish.
"On game days I'm ready to go, you just have to get your body and mind focused for that."
Butch redshirted last season in order to add mass to his naturally wiry frame. While he was home his parents helped make sure that the weight Butch put on last year (some 40 pounds) did not disappear during his illness.
"My parents made sure I ate enough and that's a big thing," Butch said. "I haven't really lost any weight from it, which is really good. I was able to eat and get some good food and take care of my fluids, which is really good."
It will be the first NCAA Tournament for several of the younger Badgers, including Butch, who sat out with the redshirt during the 2004 tournament. This, naturally, adds to his incentive to get back to full strength.
"It's every kid's dream and to take part in it," he said. "It is pretty exciting."