Big Ten Tales: Catching up with Brian Butch

I remember watching Brian Butch score, rebound, and defend in the 2003 McDonald’s All-American Game and he looked exactly like a kid that would thrive in Bo Ryan’s offensive system at Wisconsin. This was a high school all-star game that featured LeBron James, Chris Paul, Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva. And Butch, a  6-foot-11 standout from Appleton, Wisconsin, held his own.

Butch was just months away from enrolling at Wisconsin, an experience that would ultimately change his life. Back then, he was was the perfect recruit, the kind of driven player every college coach dreams of having on their team. Nine years after that game, Butch is still a captivating personality, and he is currently with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBADL.

Butch blogged a few years go about his post-college basketball adventures for BTN.com. More recently, I talked to him about his journey from high school to the pros in the latest installment of Big Ten Tales.

BTN.com: Since your playing days at Wisconsin, I know that you have had several playing stops around the world. Can you take me through a timeline of where you have been?
Brian Butch: Right after college, just like almost every college basketball player, my goal was to play in the NBA. Fortunately, I was able to play in the NBA Summer League with the Memphis Grizzlies, but when that didn’t work out, I made my way over to Spain to play there for about three weeks.

BTN.com: Just three weeks? Why so short? What then?
Butch: Well, that didn’t work out, so then I made my way across the world to China. I spent two months there, but they let me go, which helped me land in Germany, where I settled in a little. I was there for just over six months and finished the season there.

BTN.com: Is the goal at this point still to make it back to the NBA?
Butch: Yes, and I was determined to do so. After starting the next season in Greece, which didn’t work out well either, my agent and I figured it was best to try the NBA Developmental League, and hopefully work my way up to signing with an NBA Team.

That year, I played with the Bakersfield Jam in the D-League (NBADL) and everything began to take a turn for the better. I was selected to the D-League All-Star Game and was actually named the MVP of that game. One month after that, I got that call I had been waiting for. The Denver Nuggets got in touch with me and I went ahead and signed with them.

BTN.com: Did you play the entire season with Denver?
Butch: Unfortunately, that is when the injuries began to really pile up. While playing in the summer league with Denver, I ruptured my patellar tendon, which forced me out of basketball for 16 whole months. I tried to make it back with the New Orleans Hornets after last year’s lockout ended, but I tore my MCL and had a partial tear in the patellar tendon in my other knee, which caused another six months in rehab from there.

BTN.com: Wow, how do you recover from something like that, not only physically, but mentally as well?
Butch: I had a lot of injuries throughout my college career as well, but all along, I knew that I just had to find the determination to continue to keep fighting through that.

When I was a freshman in college, I found out I lost my uncle during the Big Ten Tournament. I was crushed. Then, two weeks later, I found out my mom had breast cancer.  I get a lot of determination and a lot of that fight from my parents because they have gone through so much as well. I think that’s the only way you can go. Not everything is going to be perfect and the way you want it, and it really is how you are going to handle the lows that is going to get you back to who you want to be.

BTN.com: Was there anything that you were able to do during that recovery time, which helped ease your mind and stop thinking about all these injuries you had to endure?
Butch: Yes, there was. And it’s something that I’m still working on today and am very proud of.

BTN.com: Please share.
Butch: Well, just over two years ago, while I was going through all of this, I thought it would be a great idea to start up my own basketball camp as a way of bringing something back to the community where I grew up, in Appleton, Wisconsin.  I reached out to ADIDAS and a lot of local companies that have helped me tremendously with getting the camp off the ground (brianbutchbasketball.com).

This year, our camp is also teaming up with the Children’s Hospital to help give some of those kids things they need. We would also visit there during my playing days at Wisconsin, so the thought of helping out and doing anything to make those kids lives a little easier is something that I wanted this camp to be a part of.

BTN.com: That’s very cool. Do any of your former UW teammates help out with these camps?
Butch: Yes, although we want to get more to help out going forward. We have a lot of local high school coaches helping out right now, which is great because they are all extremely knowledgeable of the game. I wanted this teaching and instruction to be taught at a high level, and with these coaches, I feel like that is the case.

BTN.com: So, what type of message do you give to these kids outside of the sport of basketball?
Butch: I want every one of the campers to know that if they work hard and stay out of trouble, they can all reach their dreams. I came from this same small town and have had to overcome a ton of injuries, but these kids have seen the things I’ve worked through and continue to work hard, and I did reach my dream of making it to the NBA.

BTN.com: That is an incredible message Brian. Speaking of incredible, you played for a pretty incredible college basketball coach during your Wisconsin playing days in Bo Ryan.  Do you have any good stories with him?
Butch: Well, I think my favorite story with Coach Ryan happened even before I enrolled at Wisconsin, when coach came to my house for the one house visit he is allowed. My parents thought that it would be a good idea to get the grill out and make old-fashioned brats for him because he is a true Wisconsin guy.

We sat outside on my parents back porch, eating these enormous brats and Coach Ryan raved about how good that thing was. It was the simplest dinner I could ever imagine, but he loved it.

We got to talking and coach was telling us a story about being at Wisconsin- Platteville and how he had to work his way up the college coaching carrousel. Right then and there, I could see in his eyes how much he truly loved the game of basketball, and that really hit home and made me want to go to Wisconsin. Coach Ryan and I were very similar in the sense, we don’t like being in the public eye and we don’t like all the hoopla. I just like genuine and sincere people, and that was him. That’s what I found out he was all about.

Everyone sees him yelling, or in a press conference all heated and worked up, but not many get to see how he was in a laid back environment and experience what kind of person he really was.

BTN.com: That’s good stuff. How often do you get to see Coach Ryan or any of your former Wisconsin teammates?
Butch: One thing that I have noticed is that Wisconsin does a great job of bringing everybody back and making sure we’re all together. We have golf outings we will all go on together. Earlier this year, the basketball program had a reunion during the first football game of the season against Northern Iowa, and you would have never known we hadn’t seen each other in a year. To be able to come back and pick up right where you left off with these guys is really cool.

BTN.com: Well, this interview has also been really cool, Brian. Thanks for sharing all these great stories with me.
Butch: Anytime. Go Big Ten.

About Sean Merriman BTN.com contributor Sean Merriman interviews Big Ten names and asks them for a great story about their days in the Big Ten for our Big Ten Tales section.

Originally from Farmington Hills, MI, I have worked at the Big Ten Network since 2012 and took over my role as web editor and blogger in August, 2013. Follow me on twitter for constant Big Ten updates @srmerriman. Thanks and enjoy!!

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