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Jimmy Butler overcame adversity to land with the Bulls

“My mentality is always going to be to keep trying to get better and to win, which is the most important thing,” said Jimmy Butler, selected by the Bulls with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. “It’s not about the stats or anything like that. I just want to win games and I know my teammates want to win games. So let’s do that.”
"The cumulative effect of Jimmy’s growth as a person, I’m more proud of that than I am of his growth as a player," said Butler's college coach, Buzz Williams. "To be on this stage, with Jimmy being the first player that I recruited and signed and coached at Marquette, it’s an unbelievable deal."

By Adam Fluck | 06.27.2011

He was kicked out of his own home at the age of 13. And though he ultimately landed on his feet and was embraced by a new family, he didn’t receive a Division I scholarship as a high school senior and had to go the junior college route. It was hardly the path to the NBA that some first round selections take.

Yet, there was Jimmy Butler, whom the Chicago Bulls selected with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, at the Berto Center on Monday for his introductory press conference.

For Butler, the reality that his dream of reaching the league was finally beginning to settle in. As he put it, he was joining the best players on the biggest stage. And perhaps the moment when it really started to hit home was as he sat in his new team’s locker room, putting on the Bulls jersey for the first time.

“It means the world,” said Butler as he laced up his shoes. “I’ve got a new team and a new coaching staff, but a great team and a great coaching staff. Putting on this Bulls uniform is like becoming a member of a new family for me. I’ve got to give it all I’ve got for them now.”

Butler does not use the word ‘family’ lightly. When he was just 13 years of age and living in Tomball, Texas, his biological mother abandoned him, kicking him out of the house and sending him into the world on his own.

Butler bounced around from place to place; staying with friends and making it work. But that was a routine that got old quickly and he longed for some structure and consistency in his life. Enter Michelle Lambert, whose son, Jordan Leslie, befriended Butler, before eventually welcoming him into their family.

The experience helped shape Butler and who he is today, he says. And though it will always be in the back of his mind, his attitude and focus as he starts the next chapter of his life in Chicago is on basketball.

“My mentality is always going to be to keep trying to get better and to win, which is the most important thing,” said Butler, who checks in at 6-7, 220 pounds. “It’s not about the stats or anything like that. I just want to win games and I know my teammates want to win games. So let’s do that.

“As far as my story goes, I want it to die down to tell you the truth,” Butler continued. “I’m ready to get back to being a normal dude with a normal family that nobody knows. I want to be like everybody else for the most part.”

One member of his new family is Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA MVP. Butler and Rose share a common bond in that they have both played with Randall Hampton, one of Rose’s closest friends and a high school teammate at Simeon Career Academy. Hampton went on to play with Butler at Tyler (Texas) Junior College, where he spent one season before heading to Marquette.

It was Rose who sent Butler a text as he was waiting to catch his flight out of Houston for Chicago on Sunday night. Rose invited him over to hang out at his place, and the two, along with Hampton, spent a few hours together.

“He’s a cool dude, down to earth and just like me in a lot of ways,” said Butler of Rose. “We got to know each other and caught up on this and that. We talked about basketball for a little, but mostly it was two guys around the same age getting to know each other.”

Jimmy Butler
"My role is going to be to be a great teammate, bring some energy and just guard," said Butler, who was named All-Big East Honorable Mention as a senior and junior at Marquette. "Do all those little things; hit an open shot here and there. Do whatever it takes to help win games."
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

On Monday, Butler, who said he’s eager to play with Rose, talked about what kind of impact he hopes to make in the NBA.

“My role is going to be to be a great teammate, bring some energy and just guard,” said Butler. “Do all those little things; hit an open shot here and there. Do whatever it takes to help win games. I’ll take it as far as I need to in order to help win games. Everybody here wants to win.”

One of Butler’s main calling cards and an element of his game that the Bulls certainly identified early on as they scouted him were his defensive abilities.

“A lot of it is about effort and wanting to play on that end of the floor,” said Butler. “I’ve always believed defense can win you games. If you can stop a star from scoring 30 and hold him to 15, you’ve got a good chance of winning that game. That’s what [college coach] Buzz [Williams] put into my head. Anybody can score, but can you find a guy who can stop the scorers? That’s a big part of the game. If you can do that, it can take you a long way. I definitely take pride in my defense and I’m going to continue to do that.”

When the Bulls suit up for next season, Butler will wear 21. His college number, Scottie Pippen’s 33, hasn’t been worn since the 2003-04 season and was officially retired in December 2005.

So Butler opted for 21, in part as a tip of the cap to Joseph Fulce, his college roommate from his season in junior college and at Marquette.

“I wasn’t even thinking about going to Marquette at first, but we sat down and talked and he convinced me to do so,” Butler said of Fulce.

As for GM Gar Forman and the Bulls, they couldn’t be happier to have landed Butler. And while it’s true that every team claims they got the player they wanted on draft night, Butler really was targeted by Chicago.

“Like any other draft, there were a handful of guys that we figured were going to be there what we would have been comfortable with. But Jimmy was on top of that list,” said Forman. “We even considered trying to move up a few spots to make sure we got him. After the 29th pick was made and we were on the clock for five minutes, it literally took three seconds to get our pick in. He’s our kind of guy and he’s going to fit the culture we have here of hard work and defense. He’s a very versatile player on both ends of the floor with a lot of size and athleticism.”

Forman and Bulls believe Mirotic worth the wait

Though the Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves agreed on draft night to a deal that would send the 23rd pick, Nikola Mirotic of Montenegro, to Chicago, GM Gar Forman was prohibited from discussing Mirotic until the trade was officially completed, which happened late Friday.

“He's a 6-foot-10-inch four man that’s got a great offensive package, we feel,” said Forman on Monday. “He just turned 20 years old, shoots it with range, can handle and pass, so he’s very skilled. He’s already playing at a very high level with Real Madrid in the Euroleague in the ACB, which is probably the second strongest league in the world behind the NBA. If you look back historically, it’s very unusual for players of that age to be playing such a significant role at that level at this stage of their development.”

Given Mirotic is under contract with Real Madrid and “will be for awhile,” said Forman, it’s a situation that will be similar to the one which eventually brought Omer Asik to Chicago which may involve a buyout. But Forman and the Bulls are comfortable with that and believe he’ll be worth the wait.

“We certainly felt he was a lottery-type talent and his game will fit our team,” said Forman. “With the nucleus of our team having a chance to be together for awhile and grow, it’s exciting to think about him at some point joining this team and bringing his skill set.”

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