JJ Butler, a 2012 Patterson Mill High School graduate, loves the game of basketball.
A young man who played the sport for most of his life, Butler found out that coaching the game is actually what he loves best.
Butler was named head men’s basketball coach at Chestnut Hill College in May, a place he’s familiar and comfortable with.
Butler left the Bel Air area for Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., where he played basketball, while pursuing degrees in finance and corporate management as well as a minor in accounting.
It was his junior year at Lipscomb when Butler, a 6-2 guard, tore the labrum in his left shoulder. That forced a redshirt season, a season that took place at Chestnut Hill, where he also earned a masters degree in administration of human services.
It was following that stint that Butler got his first taste of coaching. He stayed on at Chestnut Hill. “Kind of jumped right into coaching, fortunately, after that,” Butler said. “I kind of immediately fell in love with being on that side of the ball. I was working a 9 to 5 leasing job, that was what paid the bills for me, and I realized that, I hated going to work every day.”
Butler added, “Not because I didn’t like the company I was working for by any means, it just wasn’t what I loved and I realized that my favorite part of every day was going to basketball practice.”
So, a decision had to be made.
“So I made the gutsy decision, I mean I talked to my parents, my fiancé [Marina Solis] who’s now my wife. Just made the decision I wanted to go into coaching full time,” Butler said. “Working another job and coaching at the same time, just showed me that I didn’t want to be doing anything else other than coaching.”
Unfortunately, Chestnut Hill didn’t have opportunity to pay so Butler was actively looking for a full-time position.
Butler says while in Germany, where he was to propose to his now wife, the phone call came reference a assistant coaching position at Susquehanna University.
Butler jumped at the chance and it had an added bonus. Younger brother Bryce Butler, a 6-1 guard, was a rising sophomore on the Susquehanna roster.
Butler credits Susquehanna head coach Frank Marcinek for making it work. “Coach Marcinek is and was an amazing mentor for me,” Butler said. Butler says his brother was skeptical but eager for him to coach.
“It was amazing. My brother and I, we’re kind of similar, but we do not have the same personality by any means, so we butt heads quite a bit. Fortunately for us, we were raised in a basketball family. Both my parents met and played at Goucher College, so the two of us were brought up in the game of basketball. Our whole lives, it was kind of school and basketball.”
“It was just a little bit different, I think we were both apprehensive at first, just cause we didn’t know how it was going to be face-to-face. Knowing that we can butt heads, knowing that we can definitely create friction amongst the two of us,” Butler said. “It worked out great. I pushed him, he pushed me, he made me better. Our team, the guys, 1-20 on the roster made it an awesome environment to be part of.”
Butler’s assistant job at Susquehanna lasted for two seasons. “Awesome experience, wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was probably the best start to my coaching career I ever could have asked for, getting the opportunity to coach my younger brother,” Butler said.
Now, onto and back to Chestnut Hill.
“Chestnut Hill is a great place, a small private school in the City of Philadelphia, a great location,” Butler said. “There’s a ton of support from the administration for athletics, not just basketball. I think the athletic department is one big family, everybody pushes one another to be successful and that’s an environment that I’m eager to get back to. It’s one that I was coming from at Susquehanna, so I think just being in an environment where the athletic department is pushed by the administration and supported by the administration is one that I can grow in. Really excited about that.”
Jesse Balcer is the school’s Athletic Diector and former men’s head basketball coach.
“I think culture is a big aspect of the team and one thing coach Jesse Balcer did a great job with is implementing a family culture. The guys at Chestnut Hill, prior to me getting there, love one another like brothers and I think that’s what it’s all about,” Butler said. “I think it’s about stepping out on the court, with five guys on the floor and however many on the bench, knowing that you’re playing with one another and that you care about one another and I think that’s something that Chestnut Hill undoubtably has and that’s something that can ignite everything else that I’d like to and envision doing at Chestnut Hill.”
Butler takes over a Division II program that finished 6-22 last season. “My goal is just to bring a new sense of life to the program,” he said.
Butler’s joys have also had sadness with the loss of a classmate and friend, Matt Golczewski. Golczewski passed away from cancer three months ago. “He’s somebody that inspires me,” Butler said.