Posted Jun 11 2010 10:18AM
When it happened, there was searing pain and a fear of the unknown that he didn't have time to process. There was coach Bob Huggins cradling his head to comfort him, and that quickly gave way to worry about the game.
How would West Virginia do without him? What about the title that hours earlier felt so within reach?
It was just past the midpoint of the second half of the national semifinal against Duke, and all Da'Sean Butler knew was that the pain in his left knee would have an impact on the game. The rest hit him the next day.
The future ... the Draft ... the dreams of the pros.
Butler was in an MRI tube at the hospital in Indianapolis, lying on his back, being told not to move so technicians could get an image that showed the torn ligament, when it struck him. He would have to impress NBA teams without being able to work out. Millions of dollars on the line, and the best he could do is dazzle with personality.
That's his life now, preparing for at least four stops (and possibly five) next week to visit with teams while being months from being able to play. He was at the pre-Draft combine in Chicago without an invitation just to keep himself in front of executives, literally and figuratively. He is a potential pro. He's just unable to show it.
Butler and his agent, Richard Katz, came armed to Chicago with medical reports and progress notes on the rehab, and doctors and trainers from each team were able to question away to their satisfaction. Maybe it will be enough to convince potential suitors that the recovery is going well, that many others have come back from worse and that if Butler was rated a first-round talent before, a little patience now could have a major payoff down the line.
Or maybe it's one thing to be patient with someone already on the roster but quite another to court uncertainty. One personnel boss who had Butler in the 25-35 range before the injury said he hasn't heard of anyone still thinking along those lines. Even the second round is now in doubt.
"I can tell them that [there is little risk]," said Butler, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound small forward originally from Newark, N.J. "But at the end of the day, that's a decision they have to make. For me, I just want to be picked. I want to play in the NBA, first round or second round."
It's the timing that makes his situation unique. A lot of players have been drafted after injuries, but Butler was hurt at the end of his senior season, in the Final Four, at the end of his college eligibility and without any chance to heal and go through the pros' road tests. If he had been hurt in a previous season, he could have returned for a statement campaign at West Virginia. Had he been hurt early in 2009-10, he could have at least been far enough along in the recovery to have a shot to make the Chicago combine and the subsequent tour of individual workouts leading up to June 24.
Butler got hurt April 3 while driving into Duke's Brian Zoubek near the basket with 8:59 remaining in the Blue Devils' 78-57 victory. The pre-Draft gathering was a little more than six weeks away and the Draft about 2 ½ months away. The calendar simply broke wrong.
Or at least it seemed to.
To Butler and Katz, this timing, however unlucky, was better than being hurt in the fall and losing the season. Katz was the first to suggest it, and Butler later agreed.
The NBA got to see him as the leading scorer on one of the best teams in the nation, a significant and impressive body of work they hope will counter the inactivity of the moment.
And while Butler will head to the pros needing to recover from major surgery, he doesn't need to shake the rust from missing months of games. He gained the experience of playing a season in the spotlight for a very prominent program and will have basically been away from the game the same amount of time as every other rookie.
Butler says he will have to sit out the summer league only. He expects to be ready for the start of training camp and be able to undertake a full workload. Teams heard that a lot in Chicago, just as they will hear it next week in scheduled visits with the Spurs, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder and maybe the Pacers.
"He's been energized by the interest those teams have shown," Katz said. "I don't think he's frustrated by not being able to work out. Just the opposite. When he suffered the injury, it was, 'Is my career in jeopardy?' But now, he can see the interest from a lot of teams. He can see he's going to be drafted and very possibly in the first round. There is nothing for him to be down about."
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