Butler raises his standing with Bullets UCLA rookie impressive in camp PRO BASKETBALL


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Looking over his career statistics of 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game during his stint at UCLA, even Mitchell Butler will admit that the numbers don't jump off the page.

Still, the 6-foot-5 swingman figured that his intangibles, such as playing all five positions during college and being a strong defender, would be enough for someone to take notice.

"Mentally, I was prepared to go to Portsmouth, to Phoenix or maybe to Chicago," Butler said of the invitation-only, postseason camps that the top college players attend. "But the opportunity never arrived. Basically, I'm taking the long way."

The long way for Butler is via the free-agent route with the Washington Bullets. Thus far, Butler is making the most of the opportunity, impressing everyone with his effort in camp -- he scored 15 points (on seven of nine shooting) in a scrimmage Tuesday at Shepherd College.

Twelve of Butler's points came in the second half, on an array of shots that included driving layups, short jumpers and fast-break dunks. Many in attendance had little knowledge of Butler before the scrimmage, but afterward he was one of those mobbed by autograph seekers.

"I think I started really slow," said Butler. "But in the second half, things just got going. I started to feel more natural."

For Butler, the hope is that the natural feel carries into the preseason games, which begin tomorrow for the Bullets against the Milwaukee Bucks in Normal, Ill. Although Tuesday's performance is helping Butler get recognized by Bullets fans, the coaching staff has been taking notice for some time.

"He wasn't just impressive [in the scrimmage], he's been impressive the entire camp," said Bullets assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik. "He's active, he's very athletic and he's done a nice job so far."

Nice enough to warrant a roster spot?

"Strange things happen," Bzdelik said. "An injury here, an injury there and the guy's left standing on the opening roster. Who knows?"

Definitely not Butler, who said he appreciates the praise, but is not about to get comfortable.

"It's encouraging, but at the same time, it's still not written in stone for me," said Butler, who attended the Bullets' and Golden State Warriors' rookie camps over the summer. "I see 12 guys with guaranteed [contracts]. I can only come out and give an honest, hard effort. If I belong here, maybe they'll keep me here."

Butler first caught the eye of Washington officials when he was a freshman, at a time when the Bullets began scouting Don MacLean.

"I thought, as a freshman, he was an outstanding prospect," said general manager John Nash. "But for some reason, his career sputtered a little bit."

That perceived sputtering may have been the sacrifices he was asked to make for UCLA, which he attended after averaging 29.5 points, 16.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists as a senior at Oakwood High School in Los Angeles. At UCLA, he was the first guard off the bench as a freshman, and was switched to forward as a sophomore.

By the end of his career, he had played all five positions, and often was asked to do the other things on the floor while MacLean, Tracy Murray and Trevor Wilson took care of the scoring.

Butler is listed as a guard with the Bullets, but he played most of the scrimmage at forward.

"I've always guarded guys two to three inches taller than me and 11 and 12 pounds heavier," Butler said. "I'm a competitor. . . . If I get knocked down, I'm going to get right back up."

In one of the most grueling camps in the NBA, Butler is hoping he's left standing.

"I just want to play hard in practice and let things take care of themselves," Butler said. "If I am released, at least I know that whatever camp I attend it won't be tougher than this."

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