Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Brian Butch Five Years Later

Tomorrow night the NBA draft takes place, and barring something unusual, Brain Butch isn’t going to be drafted. He’ll probably end up on someone’s summer league team, and eventually find himself playing in Europe for a nifty paycheck for awhile, maybe finding his way back for a few short stints in the NBA. But regardless of where Butch ends up, since this week will find him amongst the handful of players making their jump to some form of pro basketball, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the compelling story of his collegiate basketball career.

More times than I can count over the past five years, I’ve heard Brian Butch referred to as a bust. I’ve heard this sentiment not just from fans of rivals of Wisconsin, but from Wisconsin fans themselves. And to be totally honest, I’ve never quite been able to figure out how I personally feel about Butch as a player. He frustrated me to no end at times. I can think of few big men who I’ve trusted less with a ball within five feet of the basket, and his three-point shot often seemed just as likely to completely miss the iron as it was to drop through for a score. That said, he was a reliable rebounder, played a huge role in several key wins for Wisconsin, and managed to earn all-Big Ten honors as a senior. If he was just some nondescript guy from Appleton, most people would be talking about what a solid career Butch had, and what a good contributor he was.

But the fact is, Brian Butch wasn’t a nondescript guy from Appleton. He was a high school all-American who graced the pages of USA Today next to LeBron James. So he’s judged on a different scale than the Dave Maders of the world. In light of this, the question that still lingers in my head is whether, even with the solid numbers he put up at Wisconsin, is Brian Butch the bust that so many say he is?

Because Butch could be considered neither spectacular or awful as a player, it's tough to answer that question. However, with Butch’s college career over, I thought it might be interesting to examine how he stacks up now against some of his high school all-American peers. Seeing as it is the most widely publicized all-American team out there, I looked at the McDonald’s All-American team from Butch’s senior year in high school, 2003. Was Butch unfairly expected to live up to the standards of LeBron James, or is he actually underrated because there are tons of guys that we never hear from again on teams like this? What I found is that, as usual, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Below I’ve listed all participants of the 2003 McDonald’s All-American game, and a few brief notes about them, along with their stats from their final year of college (as listed by Yahoo Sports), if they played in college. I’ve attempted to list them from most successful to least successful, despite the fact that it is essentially impossible to do such a thing. The two things that cause me the most trouble in this analysis are:

1) Comparing pro success with college success (not to mention different levels of college success) is like comparing apples to oranges. As tends to happen these days, the majority of the 2003 team left early for the pros, with a handful of them never attending college. Do I consider that Jackie Butler probably would have put up better college numbers than many other guys on the list if he’d qualified to attend Mississippi State, or just dwell on his general failure in jumping right to the NBA? Do Brian Butch’s solid college accomplishments elevate him over an NBA journeyman/flameout who never played college ball, even though Butch is unlikely to make an NBA roster? And what do I make of guys like Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries, who were dominant collegiate players, and have had little impact in the pros? I honestly don’t know.

2) I know virtually nothing about NBA basketball. Case in point–I’ve read that Kendrick Perkins is starting at center for the Boston Celtics. While the fact that the Celtics just won the NBA championship would imply that Perkins is pretty darn good, I still couldn’t pick him out of a crowd. This ignorance on my part will harm the credibility of my rankings.

So despite the fact that I’m undoubtedly wrong in many spots (feel free to loudly point them out to me), here’s my best attempt at figuring out where Brian Butch, and all others from the 2003 McDonalds All-American team rank five years later, from most successful to least successful:

LeBron James (NBA): 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA All-Star 2005-8, 2nd team All-NBA in 2005 and 2007, 1st team All-NBA in 2006 and 2008. Has a barber shop and three-story closet in his gigantic home, and is the only participant of the 2003 McDonald’s game to have had a Zooperstar named after him. Do I really need to say anything else?

Chris Paul (Wake Forest): Another one of those guys who needs no explanation, Paul played two years at Wake Forest and was the 2003-4 ACC Freshman of the year before becoming a 2004-5 consensus all-American. After being drafted 4th overall (1st round) in 2005 by New Orleans, Paul went on to become the 2005-6 NBA Rookie of the Year, played in the 2008 NBA All-Star game, and was first team all-NBA this past season. Paul’s clearly one of the NBA’s fastest rising stars. (Note that prior to the 2005 draft, I predicted that he’d be a bust. I am stupid.) (2005: 15.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.6 apg)

Luol Deng (Duke): In his lone year at Duke, Deng earned 3rd team all-ACC honors. Thereafter, he declared for the 2004 NBA draft, and was selected 7th overall (1st round) by Phoenix, who promptly traded him to the Chicago Bulls. Deng went on to earn a spot on the NBA All-Rookie team in his first year, and is still a key cog for the Bulls today. (2004: 15.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.8 apg)

Charlie Villanueva (UConn): Originally chose to attend Illinois, but changed his mind and headed to UConn instead (it’s almost frightening to imagine Villanueva running the floor with Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams back in ‘05...). Played only two years at UConn, and earned 2nd team all-Big East honors in his sophomore year. Was drafted 7th overall (1st round) by Toronto in the 2005 NBA draft, a spot that was considered by many to be far too early. If I’m not mistaken, he’s currently playing for my hometown Milwaukee Bucks (a team that I have never followed, save for owning a sweet Jack Sikma t-shirt that seemed already ironically funny back when I received it for my 12th birthday), and doing fairly well. (2005: 13.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 apg)

Leon Powe (California): Started off his career at Cal in dominant fashion in 2003-4, being named Pac-10 freshman of the year, earning all-Pac-10 first honors, and becoming the first freshman ever to lead the Pac-10 in rebounding. Sat out 2004-5 with a knee injury, but returned to form in 2005-6, again earning a place on the all-Pac-10 team, and 2nd team all-American honors. Taken 49th overall (2nd round) by the Denver Nuggets in the 2006 NBA draft, Powe was immediately traded to the Boston Celtics, where he has occasionally had the chance to shine (most notably in game 2 of this year’s NBA finals) as a backup forward. (2006: 20.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)

Brandon Bass (LSU): Played two seasons at LSU, including a 2004-5 season that saw him named SEC player of the year. Following that stellar season, declared for the NBA draft, where he was chosen 33rd overall (2nd round) by the New Orleans Hornets in 2005. Played sparingly for New Orleans during his first two years in the league, and seems to have put up serviceable numbers for the Dallas Mavericks this season. (2005: 17.3, ppg, 9.1 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Kendrick Perkins (NBA): Skipped college and was chosen 27th overall by Memphis in the 2003 NBA draft and immediately traded to Boston. After a slow first few years, Perkins is now a solid, but unspectacular starting center for the NBA Champion Boston Celtics.

Kris Humphries (Minnesota): Was let out of a letter of intent to play for Duke (I assume because his plans didn’t mesh with those of Mike Krzyzewski, who tends to like to have players stick around for a minimum of two years) and decided to stay home and play for the Golden Gophers. Had an outstanding freshman year where he was named 2003-4 Big Ten Freshman of the year, was a 1st team all-Big Ten selection, was an honorable mention all-American, and was the face of the Gophers that year. Was drafted 14th overall by Utah in the 2004 NBA draft, and has since spent his career as a minor contributor for Utah and Toronto. (2004: 21.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 0.7 apg)

Aaron Brooks (Oregon): Played four years for the Ducks, earning all-Pac-10 Freshman honors in 2003-4, honorable mention all-Pac-10 honors in 2004-5, and enjoying a senior year that brought him all-Pac-10 and 3rd team All-American honors in the 2006-7 season. Drafted 26th overall (1st round) by Houston in the 2007 NBA draft. (2007: 17.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg)

J.R. Giddens (Kansas, New Mexico): Started off his college career with two strong seasons at Kansas, earning all-Big 12 freshman team and honorable mention all-Big 12 honors during his first year with the Jayhawks. Transferred to New Mexico after his sophomore year amid off-the-court issues, including a bar fight and conflicts with teammates. Giddens thrived as a Lobo, earning honorable Mention all-Mountain West honors in the 2006-7 season and being named Mountain West co-player of the year, and an honorable mention all-American in 2007-8. (2008: 16.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.1 apg)

Travis Outlaw (None): Passed on college and was drafted 23rd overall (1st round) by the Portland Trail Blazers, where he’s spent his entire NBA career to this point. A backup forward, Outlaw’s stats have shown improvement during each of his five years in the league.

David Padgett (Kansas, Louisville): Padgett started off at Kansas, but only spent a year there, seemingly because coach Roy Williams, who had recruited Padgett, left for North Carolina before Padgett ever set foot on the KU campus. A transfer to Louisville followed, where Padgett found himself on the 2006-7 all-Big East 2nd team, and 2007-8 all-Big East 1st team. Constant leg injuries over the course of his career have left Padgett fairly unathletic, making it inexplicable that he became a key guy on Rick Pitino teams full of athletes who like to play up-tempo. But whatever Padgett’s health, he still finds a way to get the job done, and his stats don’t seem to give an accurate reflection of his true value as a player. (2008: 11.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 apg)

Shannon Brown (Michigan State): Played three seasons with the Spartans. Made the all-Big Ten freshman team in 2003-4, was all-Big Ten honorable mention in 2004-5, and 2nd team all-Big Ten in 2005-6. Drafted 25th overall (1st round) by The Cleveland Cavs in the 2006 draft, Brown has seen very limited action with the Cavs (and now the Bulls). During NBDL assignments, appears to have been a scoring machine, so perhaps Brown could eventually find success in the NBA. (2006: 17.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 apg)

Mustafa Shakur (Arizona): Played significant minutes during all four years he spent with the Wildcats, earning honorable mention all-Pac-10 honors as a senior year in 2006-7. Went undrafted in 2007 and appears to be playing overseas. (2007: 11.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.9 apg)

Brian Butch (Wisconsin): Made the unusual choice for a high school all-American to redshirt his freshman year and change his slight build for the rigors of college basketball. Injuries and illnesses plagued Butch throughout his career, but he nonetheless played a major role for Wisconsin during his final three seasons. Named all-Big Ten honorable mention in 2006-7 and all-Big Ten first team in 2007-8. (2008: 12.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Drew Lavender (Oklahoma, Xavier): Earned all-Big 12 freshman and honorable mention all-Big 12 honors as a freshman at Oklahoma, and had one more solid year with the Sooners before transferring to Xavier. At Xavier, earned 2nd team all-Atlantic 10 honors during both the 2006-7 and 2007-8 seasons, and was a key cog on this past year’s Xavier team that advanced to the Elite 8. (2008: 10.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.5 apg)

Brandon Cotton (Michigan State): Cotton’s tenure at Michigan State lasted only one year, as injuries derailed his progress, and lack of playing time and family concerns left him looking to play elsewhere. He landed at Detroit, where he was named 2nd team all-Horizon League for three seasons. Granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCCA due to injury issues, Cotton was expected to be a force for Detroit during the 2007-8 season, but left the team at the start of the season. (2007: 18.1 apg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg)

Olu Famutimi (Arkansas): And all-SEC Freshman selection during his first year at Arkansas, Famutimi played just two years with the Razorbacks before going undrafted in the 2005 NBA draft. Played 3 games for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2006-7 season, and averaged 11.5ppg and 5rpg during the 2006-7 season for the Arkansas Rimrockers of the NBDL. (2005: 9.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.0 apg)

Michael Jones (Maryland): Jones had a four-year career at Maryland where he put up modest numbers and was largely thought of as being a bit inconsistent. After going undrafted in 2007, Jones took his talents overseas to play professionally in Turkey. (2007: 13.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg)

Vakeaton (“Von” ) Wafer (Florida State): Played two seasons at Florida State before declaring for the NBA draft. Was drafted 39th overall (2nd round) by the Los Angeles Lakers. Currently plays sparingly for the Portland Trail Blazers. Inexplicably goes by the moniker “Von” despite having one of the coolest given names that I’ve ever seen. (2005: 12.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg)

Jackie Butler (NBA): Butler failed to qualify academically to attend Mississippi State, and then decided to attend prep school for a year before turning pro. He went undrafted, and split time between the CBA and the New York Knicks during his first professional year. To date, has played in 69 total NBA games with the Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs, with his most recent NBA game coming at the end of the 2006-7 season.

James Lang (NBA): Drafted 48th overall (2nd round) by New Orleans right of out high school in the 2003 NBA draft. Has played in 11 career games with the Washington Wizards to date, and has bounced around the NBDL and other lesser leagues for most of his career. No clue what he’s doing now.

Ndudi Ebi (NBA): Opted to forego college and was drafted 24th overall by Minnesota (insert Kevin McHale joke here). Has played in a total of 19 NBA games to date, making little to no impact. Currently playing in Israel.

Ivan Harris (Ohio State): After a relatively pedestrian career at Ohio State, where he played a supporting role on the Buckeyes’ run to the national championship game, is apparently playing professionally in Finland. (7.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.8 apg)

So no, Brian Butch probably doesn't rank in the top half of the players in the 2003 McDonald's All-American game when you look at all of their accomplishments five years later. But he's not as close to the bottom as some people think. And that's ultimately what makes Brian Butch's career so interesting--it can be viewed in different ways. Some will choose to remember him as a mild disappointment (remember, he was one of the most highly ranked players of the above group at the end of the 2003 season). Some will choose to remember him as a key contributor on a handful of very good Wisconsin teams. And ultimately, neither of these views will be wrong.

Enjoy the draft tomorrow night. I'm predicting six buttons and lots of conspicuous pinstripes on Michael Beasley's suit...


At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that Brian Butch was never an NBA prospect. He was not Lebron, Chris Paul, or Deng. He was a tall, hard working, never give up kid. I actually had the opportunity to work with Brian when he was an incoming freshman at Appleton West. He was my "replacement." As an outgoing senior, who lacked the height, but not the weight and size, it was easy to push him around. I personally am very proud of his accomplishments at UW, and will hope he hears his name called tomorrow night, although its not likely.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris - Glad to see you're "back in the game" after not blogging since the Final Four. Although, like you, for my money the hoops season ends on the Monday night of the NCAA final game - no interest in the NBA. As a Badger season ticket holder, I've watched Brian Butch improve each year, and would love to see him drafted, though it's a long shot. Finally, I really enjoy your blogs on high school hoops.....congrats to you and all of my Red Raider friends on your state championship! Maybe soon my MUHS Hilltoppers can match your success.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Thanks to the former Appleton West player who commented above--you make a great point that not everyone realizes (and which I largely overlook in this post) in noting that Brian Butch was never really built to be an NBA star. Truth be told, I actually had higher hopes for Greg Stiemsma back when I saw both him and Butch in high school ball (it would look like I was lying about this if I wasn't so wrong). But as you note, one of Butch's trademarks is his mental approach to the game. That will serve him well, wherever he ends up playing pro ball.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of those players redshirt their first year? Butch did less in 5 years than the rest did in 4 (or less).


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