Saint Joseph's loss is West Virginia's gain

Posted: April 02, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - Beyond the very top players, recruiting is an inexact science. You are trying to project 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds to 21, 22, 23. Sometimes, you rate a few very closely and decide to take the player or players that say yes first.

It was the spring of 2005 when the Saint Joseph's coaching staff found itself in such a quandary. They were going to have several scholarships available for the class that would be high school seniors in 2006. They liked a number of players for those spots.

One of them, a junior forward from Bloomfield (N.J.) Tech, really liked St. Joe's. He had been to several Hawks games that season. He had come for several visits. He had come to know the campus and the players. He liked everything about it, including the fact that one of the incoming freshmen was going to be Ahmad Nivins, a friend from nearby Jersey City.

"Everybody was really cool at St. Joe's," that player was saying yesterday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I guess they wanted me to commit right then and there. I was telling them I definitely want to come."

Still, he wasn't quite sure he wanted to commit at that moment. Even though he said he wanted to go there, he wanted to wait a bit.

St. Joe's coaches also liked juniors Darrin Govens, D.J. Rivera and Jawan Carter. One by one, in less than a week that spring, they also said yes. Just that fast, there were no scholarships left.

"When I came back, the kid from Delaware [Carter] committed," the player remembered. "I was like, 'That sucks. I guess I have to look elsewhere.' "

After chuckling a bit when reminded of that time, St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said, "You just poured vinegar into my open wound."

Da'Sean Butler would have looked pretty good on Hawk Hill these last 4 years. Put him in a frontcourt with Nivins for three seasons and the Hawks may have remained players on the national stage. If Butler were a senior at St. Joe's this season, there would more likely have been 20 wins than 20 losses.

Butler, however, is here - at the Final Four, the star player for West Virginia, the scorer of 2,085 points (putting him in a WVU club of three with Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley) and the maker of six game-winning shots this season, including the one that beat Villanova in the regular-season finale and the one that beat Georgetown to win the Big East Tournament.

Really, who knew?

Proving how difficult this really is, Butler's longtime friend and high school teammate, Casiem Drummond, was much more highly recruited. He was considered a terrific get for Villanova.

In his first two seasons for the Wildcats, Drummond scored 134 points in 40 games. He played two games in 2008-09 before transferring to Marist. He was supposed to play for Marist in the second semester this season. Only he was academically ineligible. Marist went 1-29.

You never know.

Mike Rice, then a St. Joe' first-year assistant and now the head coach at Robert Morris, knew the New Jersey high school scene intimately. He was the point man for Butler's recruiting. He put St. Joe's in a great spot.

"My feeling was the second half of his junior year, we were the favorite," Martelli said. "West Virginia was dabbling."

Then, Govens, Rivera and Carter said yes. And Butler, from Newark, N.J., was the odd man out.

"I would have gone, but the scholarship was gone," Butler said.

Govens just finished his Hawks career as a 1,000-point scorer. Rivera transferred to Binghamton after his sophomore year. Carter transferred to Delaware after his freshman year and has one more season to play.

Who knew?

"There were games when he was in high school as a junior where I would come home from the game and he had two points or he had four points," Martelli remembered. "Am I missing something?"

Now, Martelli thinks the NBA is missing something.

"I'm amazed when I read these projections that say he's not a top-of-the-draft NBA guy," Martelli said. "I've seen projections that say he's a second-round pick. I don't know what he doesn't do in basketball.

"There's other guys in this draft that are going to run faster and jump higher and shoot better. There's not a lot of guys in this draft who are going dribble, pass and shoot as well as he does."

Certainly, there are not many in college basketball who can do what he does.

Butler clearly is not unhappy with his choice of college. In the end, he may have chosen West Virginia anyway.

"I kind of didn't want to be in a city," he said. "If I ended up in a city, I would be so focused on a number of things other than basketball because that would have been my first time away from home.

"I went to West Virginia. I wouldn't say it was the middle of nowhere, but it's not the city, obviously. I can focus on school and basketball and working out and stay out of trouble."

Beyond basketball, he has become a valued member of the community. When they love you in West Virginia, they really love you. They love Da'Sean Butler.

Butler is a finalist for the Senior Class Award. The winner will be announced this weekend. A player must excel in the four C's - classroom, character, community service and competition - to be considered.

"He has never missed a practice," West Virginia assistant Billy Hahn said. "He is going to have the school record for most consecutive starts. He played last year on a sprained ankle against Villanova and had 43 points. He wasn't expected to play, but insisted that he would play. That's just how he's made."

After he is finished playing, Butler would like to go into sports broadcasting.

"We've had him for 3 years and I've never seen him unhappy," Hahn said. "He's always got a smile on his face. He's got a very good sense of humor. When he's around people, they feel good. He makes people smile."

And he makes his teams win. Butler came off the bench as a freshman for the NIT champions. Then, John Beilein left for Michigan and Bob Huggins arrived in Morgantown.

"He was recruited by John Beilein who sees basketball a certain way and he's flourished under Bob Huggins who sees basketball in maybe a completely different way," Martelli said.

Martelli also recruited Butler. He got Nivins before anybody else really knew about him. He got Jameer Nelson before anybody had a clue.

Sometimes, it is your turn. Sometimes, it is not.

You try to make intelligent decisions in recruiting. But there is some guesswork. And sometimes you guess wrong.

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