A few years ago, James Butler’s last name was both a badge of honor and a burden to carry.
As the son of Vernon — the hero in High Point’s 1982 state championship win against Len Bias’s’ Northwestern team and a member of Navy’s Elite Eight team in 1986 — and little brother to Natalie — a 2013 All-Met at Lake Braddock and current redshirt player at Connecticut — basketball success was in his bloodline. But with those ties came the expectations, ones that were ramped up after he was moved up to the Lake Braddock varsity team as a sophomore.
Rather than cower in the shadow of such success, Butler embraced it. During a summer in which he transformed his body and elevated his game, the Bruins forward tested his skills against his father and sister in the gym so that come fall, he’d be ready to meet his goal of a breakout junior season.
After dropping 30 points in the first game of the season, Butler hasn’t let up, averaging 23.7 points and serving as a versatile weapon for the Bruins as they enter postseason play this week.
“When I was younger, I felt expectations but now I don’t because I’m blessed that my family has worked with me so many hours and gone out of their way to help me get better,” said Butler, who plays for Virginia Elite on the AAU circuit. “I knew I wanted to attack it because this was the year I had to make a big jump, so I was working on my speed, strength, post moves, shooting, anything to get an advantage.”
Butler’s improvement became that much more important when senior forward A.J. Alexander tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during football season, leaving another void in the post along with the graduation of last year’s top scorer, Will Gregorits. As Butler went through the preseason, he quickly asserted himself as the team’s leader and used the 25 pounds he packed onto his frame to make his impact felt.
As Lake Braddock Coach Brian Metress likes to say, Butler is the “nexus” in Lake Braddock’s spread-out offense, allowing him to capitalize on his inside-outside ability. On nights where he matches up with smaller forwards, the 6-foot-6 junior can his jump hook to impact in the post. On occasions where he encounters physical opponents, Butler can step all the way out the three-point line and nail the open shot.
“With all of his talent, I didn’t want it to be a situation where he goes down to the post and hopes someone throws him the ball,” Metress said. “He can score in many ways and he’s having an explosive season because he put the time and work in. He’s making the most of his touches and he doesn’t give up on balls, either.”
Not only has Butler’s relentless play on the boards helped the Bruins counter smaller teams but he’s also a stopper in the paint. He’s averaging 2.4 blocks per game and also leads the team in charges taken, which shows his discipline and savvy in knowing how to defend oncoming opponents.
Butler’s IQ was put to the test in a Jan. 13 meeting against T.C. Williams. Despite scoring 28 points, he felt he could have done more to help the Bruins avoid their first loss in Virginia Conference 7 play. Two weeks later, Butler did just that, scoring a career-high 35 points to lead the Bruins past a Titans team that focused even more of its attention on the efficient post player.
“Usually when you go around the second time, teams adjust so they can shut you down, but I was able to go out and produce more,” Butler said.
Butler’s production has also yielded a triple-double, leading to interest from the likes of American, Longwood, Mount St. Mary’s, Navy and Yale. And with the Bruins set to see teams for the third time in this week’s conference tournament, he hopes to elevate his game to an even higher level in the team’s bid to return to the 6A state tournament.
NUMBER CRUNCH: 1:28.55
Time in minutes and seconds that DeMatha ‘s 800-meter relay team ran at Saturday’s New York Road Runners Millrose Games. The personal-best time was good enough for third-place at the meet, but not good enough in the minds of the Stags. Click here to read why.
-Battlefield held off Osbourn Park and defending champ Robinson to win its first Virginia 6A North region wrestling title, while Oakland Mills and Damascus won the Maryland Duals.
–Woodgrove defensive lineman Clay Dean recently received an offer from Virginia Tech, the first among what should be many.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR TODAY
No. 1 DeMatha at Paul VI, 7:30 p.m.
In this WCAC regular season finale before this weekend’s much-anticipated tournament, the top-ranked Stags will look to bounce back after dropping their first league game on Friday while the Panthers hope to continue their recent winning ways after a bumpy first half of the season.