Fans of West Virginia University men’s basketball all have a special place in their hearts for Da’Sean Butler. After hitting game-winners to propel the Mountaineers to a Big East title in 2009-10, t-shirts reading ‘The Butler did it’ could be seen throughout campus. That team eventually fought their way into the Final Four in Indianapolis until Butler went down with an absolutely tragic injury against Duke.
The road from that point was very rocky.
Butler was a second-round draft pick of the Miami Heat, and played for teams in Latvia, the NBA D-League and Belgium, having three knee surgeries along the way.
After one particular injury in 2012, Da’Sean decided to go into graduate school at WVU and study athletic
coaching in 2012. During his time in grad school, Butler took a seat on the Mountaineer bench, and learned about what it means to be a coach alongside Bob Huggins and his staff.
“I had a good opportunity to take as much time as possible and learn everything you had to do as far as being a coach and how much time you have to put in to being a coach,” Butler said in a recent interview with WVUPros. “When I was a player I worked extremely hard on the court and I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think the coaches worked as hard as they did until I was a GA. That was the most surprising thing to me.
“That takes a lot. When I was a player I didn’t really realize that. When I was a GA, watching the players from my side and watching the coaches and seeing what they were doing, I could see why a player wasn’t getting it and what I needed to do to make them get it.”
Butler seemed to really find his calling in coaching, and during this time he was not sure that his future on the court as a player would continue.
“At that time I actually kind stopped thinking about basketball playing, I just wanted to coach,” the Mountaineer forward explained. “The funny thing is that when I got hurt I finally at the halfway point of the basketball season when I was a GA, I was still working and I kind of said “you know what, forget it, because I’m tired of rehabbing and tired of being hurt and feeling sorry for myself.
“I just wanted to coach and I really took it serious and really just working at it and learning everything I could from Coach Huggins.”
It only took one phone call however to flip the switch in Butler’s head and get him focused again in pursuing a career as a player himself.
“One day my agent calls me and says, “If you get healthy, I think I can find you a job.” That just let me know how much I missed basketball because I turned everything back around in a heartbeat and started playing basketball again.”
Butler eventually signed with Okapi Aalstar in Belgium for the 2013-14 season.
Nowadays, the WVU player, who scored 2,095 points in his career as a Mountaineer and was a top-10 finalist for the John Wooden award during his senior season, is playing for Chalons-Reims in France.
Butler leaned on French professional and close personal friend John Flowers for advice when making the decision to move to France.
“John Flowers is part of my agency right now and we’re really good friends,” Butler who is represented by the same agency as Flowers, KMG Sport Management, said. “He was playing in France for a couple of years anyway, and when my agent told me I had an opportunity to play, I actually asked him how the basketball was over in France and about any advice he had.
“I kind of take his word, and that’s a big deal for me. When he had nothing but positive things to say it kind of made it a little bit easier for me. I had the opportunity to play against some French teams last year when I played in Belgium. I knew the competition was good competition.”
Da’Sean is averaging 10.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds this season with Chalons-Reims, and did not struggle with the transition to play overseas.
“It’s just getting adjusted to when to put the basketball down as far as the walking and traveling calls,” he explained. “Other than that it’s pretty much the same basketball. You learn to adapt to where you’re playing anyway regardless of if it’s a little bit off or a little bit different. To me for the most part it’s the same basketball.”
Chalons-Reims is 8-11 on the season, and sits in the 13th spot in the standings, but believes that his team is gelling and should be able to make a playoff push.
“Things are going pretty well. It started off a little rocky but things are starting to come together. Guys are starting to fill in their roles. It’s always tough when you got a bunch of guys that just came together. Some people gel early, some people gel later.
“The top ten teams make the playoffs so we’re looking for number ten, or higher. We’re not that far off. The teams that are six through ten have the same record. It could easily flip and that could be us at six, seven, or eight. Hopefully we can keep winning and taking care of business, which we should be able to, we’ve got a really talented team.”
Butler starts at the small forward for his squad, but shifts around in the lineup throughout the game.
“On my team I’m used a lot as the three as well,” he said. “But when I’m playing the four it makes it a little easier to attack the basket, to shoot and to get space to shoot and place a little bit more comfortably than if I’m at the three. At the three I get to post up a little bit more as well so it’s just picking my mismatches when I have them, and just attacking and playing smart basketball.”
As he alluded to, Butler and Flowers are good friends, and got the opportunity to play against each other for the first time in the professional ranks this past January, with Butler’s team picking up the win.
“It was actually a good game early and we ended up pulling away later in the game,” Butler said. “It felt good to beat John and talk trash a little bit afterwards. It was weird playing against him though. It’s different from when we practiced at WVU and we played against each other in practice as opposed to an actual game. It was a different feel but it was good to get the win.”
Outside of Flowers, Butler still keeps in close contact with he WVU teammates during the season, as well as during workouts in the off-season.
“I talk to John, I talk to Rob Summers, I talk to Joe Mazzulla everyday,” Butler explained. “We have a group chat, we talk all the time. Goodness, I talk to Alex a lot, we do a lot of working out in the summer together obviously. Kevin Jones is another one I talk to. Truck, I can’t get him off of my Facetime. He’s always face-timing me, telling me something crazy.
“I try my best to keep up with my teammates the best I can. I’ve done so much with these guys as far as basketball and going to school with these guys and it’s tough to stay away from them completely.”
Butler says that he loves watching press Virginia play and keeps up with them during this year’s games. He said that he plans to come back to Morgantown after the season, and is very happy with his play overseas.
“I’m back at 100%. As far as me feeling the way I felt when I was 22, no. But as the same time, I’m healthy, I’m playing basketball, I’m playing well and I’m happy with my game,” he said.
While it may sound cliché, Da’Sean Butler was not only number one on his uniform, but also number one in the hearts of WVU fans. His journey through injury, coaching and eventually back to the floor as a professional has been one that has not only proved his skill and love for basketball, but also his hard work and perseverance to be the best at it that he can be.