- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

If not for his dad’s persistence, Lamar Butler Jr. wouldn’t be leading George Mason into Saturday’s Final Four meeting with Florida. He probably wouldn’t have played college basketball, opting instead to pursue his youthful love of football.

And there definitely wouldn’t have been the emotional moment at the buzzer of the Patriots’ overtime victory against Connecticut on Sunday, when the son gazed into the crowd and shared the improbable victory with his father.

However, Lamar Butler Sr. oversaw his son’s basketball development from a young age, molding a fundamentally sound player who has become one of the fan favorites of this month’s NCAA tournament.

And for that, Lamar Jr. — and the Patriots (27-7) — are thankful.

“He’s put in so much work with me. It means a lot to me,” Lamar Jr. said. “He broke down on my shoulder, and I couldn’t hold back my emotions because I knew he put in so much work, even when I was little. I wasn’t listening because I liked football so much. He was just very demanding of my time when I was little, and now it’s paying off.”

Butler Sr. invested time in all five of his children — daughters Kisha and Keelay and sons Kenny, Lamar Jr. and Joey (now the starting point guard at Mount St. Mary’s). Butler Sr. and his wife, Pam, never hired a babysitter, electing instead to bring their kids wherever they went.

A basketball standout at Bowie State in the 1970s, Butler Sr. began charting his son’s hardwood path early. He first moved from the District to an Oxon Hill apartment, then to a home in Fort Washington before Lamar Jr. was born.

“My wife and I decided that we needed to buy a smaller house that had some land where we could put a whole court out back and take him out there and give him some instructions and teach him what I thought he needed to do to play at the high school and college level,” Butler Sr. said Tuesday from a courtside seat at Patriot Center after watching George Mason practice.

Lamar Jr. picked up the game at age 7 and played in a peewee league in Oxon Hill. The next year, his dad took over his instruction.

That meant hours of drills and work in the backyard, often in the stifling heat. It also meant a constant shuttle of practices and games, often including both Boys Club and AAU on the same day.

Yet until age 12, Lamar Jr. wasn’t sure he wanted to devote himself to basketball. Like his brother Kenny, who went on to become a second-team NAIA All-American at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, he wondered whether it would be best to follow his dad’s path.

“Everybody in my past used to tease Lamar that, ‘You have to be as good as your dad.’ For a minute he was like, ‘I’m good at football. Maybe I need to play football,’” Butler Sr. said. “After a point, my goal was ‘I’m going to let you play football, I’m going to let you play baseball, I’m going to let you run track, I’m going to let you play soccer. But you’re going to do what I know, and what I know is basketball.’ ”

Lamar Jr. proved an apt pupil, developing into a technically sound guard with solid range and the ability to create his own shot. Other AAU programs came calling, though Butler Sr. didn’t want to give up on coaching his son.

Still, Lamar Jr. remained focused on basketball throughout his high school career thanks to his dad, who guided him away from possible trouble and back into the gym.

“He kept me in the right direction,” Lamar Jr. said. “Sometimes he had to tell me no, and I didn’t understand why until I was older. I had some friends I didn’t realize were kind of crazy back then, but as you get older and get yourself into high school you realize, ‘I have to bring myself away from that.’ ”

Eventually, colleges — including George Mason — started recruiting Lamar Jr.

He threw away the first letter he received from the Patriots, whom he had never heard of. “I’m not going there,” he figured. “I’m going to a bigger school.”

But after flirting with some ACC schools — notably Florida State — Butler chose George Mason over George Washington and Xavier. He has since developed into a virtual coach on the floor for the Patriots and said he wants to go into coaching after his playing career is finished.

“As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Patriots coach Jim Larranaga said.

The senior is averaging 11.8 points as part of a balanced offense. He scored 19 points against Connecticut and was named the most outstanding player of the regional, and he embraced his father after the victory.

Both Butlers are hoping for two more nearly identical moments this weekend. Yet if George Mason falls, it still will have been a memorable time for both father and son.

“He’s probably happier than I am,” Lamar Jr. said. “I’m still playing and I’m enjoying it, so he’s probably more emotional than I am. On the court, I’m all smiles and having fun, but when I look at him he’s cheesing ear to ear. That’s probably where I get my smile from. My mother’s not the smiling type of person. He definitely is.

Added his father: “Incredible. A dream come true. It means everything. My whole life has been dedicated to my kids. … It just means hard work has paid off. It just means he’s getting to do what he’s been dreaming of doing his entire life, playing in the Final Four.”


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