All JJ Butler had to do to earn a Division I basketball scholarship was run the point for an AAU team he had never played for during a major East Coast tournament with the coach of the school he loved looking on from the stands.
Many players in Butler's shoes might have panicked over that type of pressure. But the Patterson Mill senior suited up for Maryland 3D in all three of its games at the Baltimore Big Shots event last weekend, and evidently did more than enough to impress Scott Sanderson. On Monday night, the Lipscomb coach called to offer Butler a scholarship, which the 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard immediately accepted.
"I'm excited about everything," said Butler, who will be the first Division I scholarship athlete in Patterson Mill history. "I was able to work the pick and roll well [with Maryland 3D], and that's what the coach at Lipscomb said he liked most about my game. My jump shot wasn't falling, but I was able to attack and I was able to have an effect on the 3D team even though it was my first time."
Butler's commitment to the Bisons on Monday ended a recruiting process that he said was occasionally "unorthodox." His path to college basketball started when he joined Jeroud Clark's Patterson Mill varsity squad as a freshman. The school was then in its second year of existence, so Butler was able to make an impact right away.
"He was a four-year starter for us [and] a three-year captain voted by the players," Clark said. "He holds every assist record at our school, games played, games started, holds the record for steals. He's the consummate unselfish teammate. He could've averaged 20 a game if he wanted to. But the reality is that he's more into winning and getting the job done. One game he had four points and 17 assists and he was thrilled. Then he scored 29 one game and didn't have any assists and he was upset. So that's just the type of kid he is."
As a senior, Butler averaged 14 points, seven assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 steals in leading the Huskies to a 23-4 record and a runner-up finish in their Class 2A region. Butler, who played AAU with the Columbia Ravens after his junior year, was getting plenty of Division II and III looks, plus a smattering of DI interest.
"[College coaches liked his] basketball IQ and his ability to be a very, very strong on-the-ball defender," Clark said. "That's something we stressed for him here at Patterson Mill. Then [they also liked] his ability to maneuver the ball around [the court] and be an unselfish, true point guard with the vision to get the basketball out to people in good positions."
Clark said Binghamton, Colgate, St. Francis (Pa.) and Yale expressed varying degrees of interest in Butler at different times throughout his senior season. But Lipscomb's discovery of Butler didn't come until after the Huskies' year was done.
"After my senior year ended, my dad just started making phone calls to find out who needed a point guard," Butler said. "He went to ESPN.com and looked at schools that had rosters … and checked if they [were losing guards and] had signed any guards yet. Lipscomb fell in that category. They had a need at guard and they hadn't signed anybody. My dad gave them a call and luckily they picked up and got in touch."
Butler said his father sent his highlight film to the Bisons staff and the coaches were impressed. The Lipscomb staff did, in fact, need a point guard, and saw enough positive traits in Butler that they invited him to visit Lipscomb's campus in Nashville. Butler, who made the trip earlier this spring, was blown away by everything the Atlantic Sun school had to offer.
"The campus is beautiful," he said. "It's in the middle of Nashville, which is great. There's a lot to do around campus. I went with my mom and we were able to drive around Nashville a little bit. It's a beautiful city. The coaching staff is just a great group of guys. I clicked with all of them right off the bat. We just kind of clicked right away. When I went back, the guys [on the team] were great. We talked when we could and created relationships. It wasn't a hard decision for me."
Butler worked out with the team during his visit to Lipscomb, but the coaches wanted to see him play "one more time under the whistle." Butler had signed up to play AAU for Cecil Kirk this spring, and the Baltimore Big Shots event seemed like the perfect opportunity for him to be seen by Sanderson. But Cecil Kirk pulled out of the tournament, forcing Butler to find a new team quickly.
Luckily for Butler, Maryland 3D coach John Storey welcomed him onto his roster and let him run the team from the start. Butler was happy with his performance, and Sanderson clearly was, too. Butler was on an official visit to Division II Post University in Connecticut on Monday when the Lipscomb coach tried tracking him down through his parents and coaches. Butler eventually connected with Sanderson and committed as soon as the offer was extended.
Butler, who was scheduled to visit Binghamton next month, said the Lipscomb coaches are looking for him to see minutes as a freshman. The former Huskies star said looking back on the recruiting process, it's somewhat unbelievable to him how well things eventually worked out. Butler said he's "grateful" to his parents, Clark, Storey and everyone else who played a part in him ending up at Lipscomb.
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"I definitely had doubts [that I would go DI]," Butler said. "Obviously, the way my dad went about things was a bit unorthodox. I didn't know if it was going to work out, knowing that my future was kind of based on two weekends. The last weekend [with Maryland 3D] was kind of stressful. But I'm glad it worked out the way it did. … [Now] I'm going to come in and work hard and hopefully be able to get on the floor to help get some Ws for Lipscomb."