Butler matures into Mountaineers' star

Butler University is the signature story of this Final Four with shuttle buses waiting to drive media folks the six miles from downtown to Hinkle Fieldhouse to continue to glorify the "mid-major that could."

Duke? That's where Mike Krzyzewski rules.

Michigan State? Tom Izzo University.

Which brings us to West Virginia and to Da'Sean Butler, the signature player from the team that stopped Kentucky's inexorable march to the Final Four in Syracuse last Saturday.

What's the story behind this team, the first group of Mountaineers to make the Final Four in more than five decades?

"I don't know about us," Butler said, smiling. "We can be the non-star team. We'll just go out and do our thing without any stars."

Too late. Da'Sean Butler, a relentless 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward, has already become the face of this gritty West Virginia team that plays Duke in the second NCAA semifinal Saturday. Butler is the rarest of Final Four species -- a four-year senior starter and a guy who has owned March.

Roll the Da'Sean Butler highlight reel: Made the three-point buzzer-beater that topped Cincinnati in the Mountaineers' Big East tournament opener. Made a runner in the lane with four seconds remaining to beat Georgetown in the Big East title game. If you're counting, and you should be, that's six game-winning shots for Butler this season.

And then: Scored 28 as the Mountaineers dusted Missouri in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Dropped 18, making half of his eight 3-pointers, in the shock defeat of Kentucky, 73-66, in the NCAA East Regional final.

"This is something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Butler said. "This right here will be memorable for me."

Good for him.

Butler's is a story worth remembering and re-telling, right back to where he started, in gritty Bloomfield, N.J. -- where he played at Bloomfield Tech High School.

He sat the bench as a freshman, felt discouraged and pulled the Mr. Big Shot routine, threatening to quit.

His coach, Nick Mariniello, told him, "Great." Hit the road.

Butler, instead, blinked. And stayed.

Butler later told Mariniello his tough love was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Not that he was finished growing up. Life was still tough as a sophomore. He watched as Casiem Drummond, who later signed with Villanova, took most of the shots.

Butler's time finally came during his senior season, but don't look for his name with Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson and the other kingpins from the high school Class of 2006.

Scout.com rated Butler the 15th-best small forward nationally in his class. Rivals.com ranked him 147th in the nation. His early scholarship offers were from Atlantic 10 Conference schools.

Rutgers and Seton Hall, the in-state Big East schools, were going through coaching changes. DePaul and Georgetown pushed late. So did West Virginia.

Two of the bidders were located on urban campuses. One was not. The more Butler thought about it, the more he realized he had a winner.

"I figured I could concentrate on school and basketball," Butler said. "You can't get in too much trouble at West Virginia."

What Butler did not plan on was adjusting to a change in coaching styles and temperaments that could not have been more dramatic.

John Beilein and his fascination with the three departed for Michigan after Butler's freshman season. He was replaced by Bob Huggins and his obsession with sharp elbows and not conceding any 3-pointers -- or two-point shots for that matter.

"The intensity on defense is much different," Butler said. "My freshman year, if we didn't get a stop, we would try to out-shoot them at the other end.

"The main difference between the last three years and the (first) year is Coach Huggins really wants us to concentrate on the effort aspect. Mainly on the defensive end, getting after a rebound ... It's been a change for the better, and it has helped all our games."

Especially Da'Sean Butler's game. As the story goes, Butler was spending as much as $750 a month on pizza as a freshman. Huggins introduced him to WVU strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler. He has taught Butler how to train and what to eat.

Their joint creation is a matchup nightmare. Butler can either post up or shoot over most shooting guards. And when opposing coaches try to defend him with a more muscular small forward -- Lance Thomas of Duke, a friend of Butler's from New Jersey, is likely to get the assignment Saturday -- Butler can go straight to the rack.

Butler has already shot his way to third place, behind only Jerry West and Rod Thorn, on the Mountaineers' all-time scoring list with 2,085 points.

Now, as West did in 1959, Butler has taken the Mountaineers to the Final Four.

"He's the (NBA) logo," Butler said, smiling again. "Look at that, and then look at me."

Everybody is looking at Butler these days.