It’s tough not to smile when you see Da’Sean Butler.
Ah, the memories.
There was his start as a college basketball player with John Beilein at WVU and his blossoming with Bob Huggins. There were all the points scored in Morgantown – over 2,000 to be exact. He’s one of three — Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West are the others – to do so. The memorable Big East tournament championship. The defeat of a loaded Kentucky team and slot in the Final Four. And, yes, the touching moment when Huggins tried to console him in that Final Four against Duke.
They all came flooding back on Tuesday when I visited Butler at his new gig as an assistant to Wheeling University coach Chris Richardson.
Honestly, Butler hasn’t aged a bit. (‘I’m trying not to!” he said with a smile.)
Yet that Final Four was in 2010. It’s 2021. And Butler is reinventing himself after playing much of the time since from the NBA G-League to Latvia, Belgium, France, Germany and Israel. You might remember he was drafted 42nd in the NBA draft by the Miami Heat, but there was that ACL injury.
By the way, I asked Butler about his fondest WVU moments. The Huggins cradle in the Final Four was NOT one of them. (“Everyone always asks about the Huggins moment,” Butler sighed. “I hate it. It was a terrible, terrible moment. People ask me to sign the picture. I hate signing the picture. So, if you’re reading, please don’t ask me. Imagine asking someone to sign a picture of the worst moment of your life. The most fun was probably the Big East championship. It was such a good feeling in the state, to hear ‘Country Roads’ in the (Madison Square) Garden. To see all those that helped with the team, whether it be the staff, parents, everybody. It was a great experience. We won one for West Virginia.”)
His nine-year playing career was a great run. But, finally…
“I was done,” Butler said. “I was tired. My body was hurting. I mean, I enjoyed it and I could have kept playing. There are jobs overseas still. I’ve had tons of interest since retiring. I came home in March, though, and retired in July.”
So, on Tuesday he was conferring with first-year coach Richardson, who is trying to rebuild the WU program. Later, in a nearby room, he was towering over a fellow assistant to break down Frostburg State.
A lot of work is ahead for the WU coaches. The Cardinals stand 2-8. Yet it’s hard to imagine a bigger jolt within the state of West Virginia for a Mountain East team than to bring on Butler. There’s the name recognition for recruiting. There are the public relations and fundraising perks. And there’s that vast wealth of knowledge from first-hand experience.
Butler remembers picking the brains of Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and president Pat Riley after being drafted and while rehabbing in 2010. Then, in March of 2011, he was picked up by the San Antonio Spurs, led by coach Gregg Popovich. (“When you think of culture, who else would you want to be around?” Butler said. “The accountability. The discipline.”)
He’s been preparing for this job for a long time.
“I’ve always wanted to coach,” Butler said. “Obviously, I played and this was always built into the scenario. As a kid I would go to coaching clinics. I’d watch great coaches talk, whether it be Bob Hurley, Jay Wright, Gary Waters… I’d go to the clinics as a 14- or 15-year old wanting to learn about the game. I knew it would benefit me as a player and, if I wanted to become a coach, there as well.”
Yes, there were Beilein (one year) and Huggins (three) from which to learn.
“I learned from a should-be Hall of Famer,” said Butler of Huggins. “I learned his system, how he does things, how he builds relationships. That was important.”
In 2012-13, Butler suffered another injury while playing overseas to the same left ACL and thought he was done playing basketball. Huggins offered him a graduate assistant position with the Mountaineers.
“I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve done,” Butler said. “I wasn’t comfortable asking for help. Coach Huggins sensed that and snatched me up and said, ‘Listen, I know you want to do this and this would be a good thing for you to do.’ It really opened my eyes that I want to coach.”
“I had a year of learning how to build relationships with players,” Butler said. “I watched Coach Huggins. I watched (assistants) Coach (Larry) Harrison, who was a head coach at Hartford. I watched Coach (Erik) Martin. I watched Coach (Ron) Everhart, who was the head coach at Duquesne. Coach (Billy) Hahn was there. Just tons and tons of experience.
“After that year I knew I wanted to coach, but I just missed playing.”
Now, though, he’s back and focused on coaching. Married with three children, he’s dived headfirst into the job.
“I’ve known Chris (Richardson) forever,” Butler said. “I was sending my resume to everybody. Then, when I got a chance to talk to him, he wanted me to come up. I came up in October, got a chance to meet the staff and knew this is where I wanted to be. I met the players and how they interacted with the coaches.
“I left and was excited. I thought, ‘I can’t wait to be involved with that.’ Then it happened.”
Now, he’s helping the Cardinals. Yet he’s learning – despite all the prior experience.
“The day-to-day stuff,” Butler said. “As a coach, there’s so much more than basketball. Being here this week, I’ve seen this man (Richardson) put out so many fires, deal with so many situations outside of basketball… That’s what’s brand new to me. You want to hold the mirror up to these young men and let them see the best versions of themselves. I’m learning how to do that.”
Butler has nothing but praise for Richardson.
“Patience,” Butler said. “You can tell he’s a dad. That was the first thing I picked up. I was wired different as basketball player. Chris gets straight to the point, but, at the same time, he knows how to reach different guys in different ways.”
Butler is confident in the program.
“The program can be really good,” Butler said. “It has a history of being good. It has that in its favor. Now, Chris is building a culture. Anybody that knows anything about basketball knows it takes time. This program has a great chance to be great in this conference. Patience.”
“It’s been good so far,” he said. “I’m excited.”
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.