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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The never-before-told story about the Quinnipiac men’s basketball program’s interest in Jimmy Butler

‘Quinnipiac showed the most interest’
Photo Illustration by Connor Youngberg
Miami Heat shooting guard Jimmy Butler went to Tyler Junior College before transferring to Marquette. (CWEB News/Flickr)

Much of Jimmy Butler’s life has been highly publicized. From his rough upbringing to his rise to NBA stardom, people know the story of the Miami Heat shooting guard. 

But before he was a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA member and five-time All-Defensive team selection, Butler was a zero-star recruit out of Tomball, Texas. With a population of just under 13,000, he stood out quickly. Averaging just shy of 20 points and nine rebounds per game as a senior, he was the Tomball Cougars’ most valuable player. 

The thing was, colleges at the Division I level were focused on bigger name high schools and bigger name players. They seemed to ignore Butler. He would attend Tyler Junior College for a season before making the Division I jump. 

Butler had a scholarship offer from Centenary College of Louisiana, then a Division-I school. That was his only full-ride offer to play at the next level. The only other mid-major team looking his way? Quinnipiac — partially. 

What if he had come to Quinnipiac for the 2007-08 season? It could have happened, yet no one knows it. 

“Quinnipiac showed the most interest in Jimmy, from my perspective,” Brad Ball, Butler’s head coach at Tomball High School, said. “They seemed really, really interested and they seemed to really like him and that was a real possibility, and Jimmy wanted to pursue it.” 

When the Bobcats’ program brought in a new coaching staff for that season, it also came with an expectation to find some new talent that could help spur a change in Hamden. That started with hiring Tom Moore to lead the charge. On that staff was assistant Eric Eaton, who already had prior connections within the Texas area. 

“I had reached out to the high school coaches to try to find out transcripts and how good of a student they are and find out more about their backgrounds,” Eaton said. “This (Butler) kid from Tomball High School, 6-foot, six inch, six-foot, five inch wing, was one of them.” 

Despite Butler being nearly 1,800 miles away from the Quinnipiac campus and — at that point — just a scrawny slasher, he had made an impact on the Bobcats coaching staff that only had a limited amount of scholarships to offer. 

“I think they liked his versatility,” Ball said. “He was really good off the dribble and his mid-range game. I mean, he’s got the best mid-range game of any high school player I’ve ever seen.” 

That mid-range game, which has been perfected at the sport’s highest level, blossomed during his time as a teenager. Though major conference colleges were not giving Butler looks, that did not deter him in his journey. 

Lisa Streat, one of Butler’s high school computer teachers, always knew that he was special and that his aspirations were sky-high. Now as the school’s assistant principal, she’s able to look back at her former student and smile. 

“He always said that he was going to be a professional basketball player,” Streat said. “All kids have those dreams of being in the pros, but I don’t think anybody actually believed that that was going to happen, other than Jimmy … This was going to be his life’s mission. He made it his mission, even as a young kid.” 

Quinnipiac never made Butler a formal offer or hosted him on a visit, mainly because of the limited number of roster spots the program could fill. But had he come to Hamden, Eaton was certain he would have worn the Bobcat blue and gold. 

“If we brought Jimmy on a visit and didn’t take him, I probably would have to quit the business,” said Eaton, who is now the head coach at Division II Saint Michael’s in Colchester, Vermont. “No, we never got to that point.” 

Instead of joining Quinnipiac, Butler stayed at home, suiting up for Tyler Junior College. But the Bobcats did not give up on getting their coveted player. Despite missing out on the future NBA star in year one, Moore’s staff still stayed in touch. 

“There’s a lot of people that never got as far as we did as far as recruiting because I actually had gone down the following year down to Tyler to recruit him,” Eaton said. “When I went down to the game the following year, Jimmy was killing it, right? And I went down to a game (where) he had like 25 and 14 rebounds. And I was like, well (we’re) done recruiting him.” 

With his impressive numbers in JUCO, he began to make a name for himself that was growing around basketball circles. Although Quinnipiac maintained continued interest, he found a fit with the Marquette Golden Eagles in 2008-09. The rest is history. 

“The past may have made him the guy he is today,” Ball said. “He ended up playing for a really good junior college coach, a really good coach at Marquette and he’s played for great coaches in the NBA. So maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.” 

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Ethan Hurwitz, Sports Editor

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