Butler’s comeback provides Spurs compelling prospect

By Tim Griffin

The memory still haunts Da’Sean Butler several months after his short stay with the Miami Heat ended.

Butler wasn’t healthy when he tried to earn his way onto the Heat’s roster as a rookie last fall.

Far from it, in fact.

As Butler attempted to overcome a serious knee injury, he did his best to convince Miami coaches he could still play at the level that made him one of the nation’s top college players the previous season.

But the nagging effects of the injury didn’t give him much of a chance to show what he could do.

“I remember my first training camp and how I couldn’t participate,” Butler said. “I practically cried sitting there.”

Butler was waived by the Heat and spent several months in basketball limbo before resurfacing with the Spurs late in the season with a waiver transaction on March 25.

The Spurs had no immediate expectations as they placed him on the inactive list. Butler continued his rehabilitation with the team’s strength staff.

Even with the lockout looming, Butler has big hopes he can start his NBA playing career with the Spurs when camps open.

“I love to play basketball, and I love to prove people wrong,” Butler said. “This is something I’ve been praying and leading to do during the last year. I’m close now.”

Such a recovery is stunning after Butler’s college career ended as it did in the 2010 Final Four semifinals.

After leading West Virginia to its first Final Four appearance in 51 seasons, Butler sustained a horrific injury to his left knee while driving to the basket late in a loss to eventual national champion Duke.

The image is still hard to shake more than a year later. Butler was writhing on the floor, biting on his hand trying to fight off pain. Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins was draped over Butler, whispering words of encouragement to him.

The diagnosis was a torn ACL, a sprained MCL and multiple bone bruises. His recovery was expected to take at least six months.

The injury caused his draft stock to plummet. After originally being projected as a mid-first-rounder, Butler fell to the 42nd overall pick in the middle of the second round.

As his recovery progressed, Butler tried to push his recovery as much as possible.

“Early on, I was really rushing,” Butler said. “I just wanted everybody to know that I would be fine and not let this injury slow me down.”

But he was clearly not the same player as before as he tried to recapture the form that enabled him to lead the Mountaineers in scoring and assists at 17.2 and 3.1 as a senior.

“I was treating it like an ankle sprain, and that’s definitely not the case,” Butler said.

Gradually, he’s recovered and is close to the form of his senior season.

Before his injury, the 6-foot-7, 230-pounder was known as a pure shooter whose high release was almost impossible to defend. He was also known for his high basketball intellect and his character — traits that would fit the Spurs’ profile of second-round late bloomers.

But his lack of athleticism was a concern, even before his knee injury.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still hasn’t seen much of Butler’s on-court skills since his arrival.

“I have no idea,” Popovich said. “You can’t even tell if he’s a player or not. He’s out there running around pylons.

“Everybody just tells me he looked good in the tournament. But they also tell me he’s X number of pounds heavier than he was in the tournament. So I won’t even have an impression of him until camp comes.”

When that chance arrives, Butler vows to be ready.

“It feels like it’s been an extremely long, long year for me,” Butler said. “But it’s a big opportunity to get a chance with an organization like this one. This is a great second chance and a great place for me.”

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