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The Butler Is Doing It With Grade-A Talent in Grade 10

September 05, 1986|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

Think of the possibilities.

The phrase keeps reverberating in the mind every time you hear the story of Mitch Butler.

Butler, a student at Oakwood High in North Hollywood, enrollment 300, got a chance to show what he could do with the big boys this summer by playing for the American Roundball Corp., a Southern California organization that showcases young basketball talent.

He then went up to Northern California later in the summer, played against the top competition there in a tournament and wound up the event's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds per game. In one game, he scored 24 points and had 17 rebounds.

"He's as good as anybody I've seen at that age; a player like him comes along once every five years," says Joe Dunn, one of Butler's summer coaches. And Dunn has seen some talent dribble before his eyes, people such as Byron Scott and Leon Wood, both of whom are now playing in the National Basketball Assn.

The praise being thrown in the direction of the 6-3, 185-pound athlete is really impressive when you consider he is only 15 and just entering the 10th grade.

Think of the possibilities.

"He's got everything going for him, including his attitude," Dunn says. "Some kids have great talent, but are not very intelligent. Some are very bright, but not coachable. He's both.

"He's a great athlete. He can't miss. He has quickness, he can run the court, he's strong going to the boards and can jump with anybody. He has triple jumped around 43 feet and broad jumped 20 feet, 7 inches. He has all the tools to play small forward or big guard at the Division I level. If he ends up 6-5, he'll play small forward. He was scoring 20 points a game and averaging 12, 13 rebounds for us. All he needs is some experience and some work on his perimeter game."

Roz Goldenberg, his high school coach, feels that Butler has "good instincts. Part of problem now is that he is passing up shots because he's such a good passer. I would like to see him develop more one-on-one moves. I'd like to see him improve his outside shot to the 21-foot range. Right now, he's effective from 18 feet and in."

Butler played for the ARC team that won the Las Vegas Easter Classic in the 15-year-old-and-under category and made the all-tournament team.

"He's the type of kid that gets better every time he takes the court," ARC President Rich Goldberg says.

"By playing in the ARC," Dunn says, "he got some exposure kids at that level don't normally get, and he proved he can play with those guys right now. He's one of those kids you feel privileged to be associated with. The only question now is how big he is going to be."

There was never a question in the mind of his high school coach how good he was going to be.

"I think what has happened," Goldenberg said, "is just that he has gotten some exposure. Not many people saw him until he played at places like Pauley Pavilion and around the country. He's been a good player since the sixth or seventh grade.

"I had him in a class in the seventh grade. I was the girls basketball coach then, but when I saw Mitch, I realized what was coming up. I was excited."

Understandably so. Schools such as Oakwood don't normally get blue chip players. So why would someone with Butler's talent, who lives in Inglewood a couple of three-point shots from the Forum, choose to come out to the Valley to attend classes at a Small Schools Division institution best known for having a woman coach the boys team and where Butler's basketball skills became a well-kept secret?

"For my education," says Butler, whose maturity and foresight are surprising in someone so young. "I'm not going to rely totally on my basketball skills to take me through college. I want people to look at me and say, 'This is an intelligent pre-med student who also has basketball skills.' "

Anybody who looks at Butler's classroom statistics as well as his basketball stats would know that. He will carry a 3.6 grade-point average into the 10th grade this fall. It is the academic talent that caught the eye of Happy Hairston. Hairston, a former Los Angeles Laker, was impressed enough with Butler when the youngster was a student at one of his basketball camps to steer him on his present course. It was Hairston who arranged an interview with Oakwood officials and stayed on Butler to keep his grades up.

Goldberg heard about Butler and got him to the ARC.

"A lot of high school coaches would like to have him," Goldberg says, "but Oakwood has what he wants academically. By being in the ARC, he can stay in a smaller school and still get exposure. College recruiters want to see what he can do against bigger competition. I'll guarantee you that he'll get a major scholarship. He's got what coaches are looking for these days--good grades, a good attitude and he's coachable."

Added Goldenberg, his high-school coach, "He's a student-athlete who is a student first. It would be a nice thing if people realize that it's worth looking at the small schools. There are some stars there."

Butler is one star, according to Goldenberg, who may continue to soar far beyond Oakwood.

"I see him contributing to a college program on the Division I level," she said. "I think he'll be a guard in college."

Fifteen-year-olds don't have to make any final decisions about life after high school, but Butler does mention that UCLA has both a good medical school and, of course, a big-time basketball program.

Beyond that, he doesn't like to speculate.

"If it's there, I'd be interested in pro basketball," Butler says. "But I'm not going to depend on that. I see a lot of guys get there, get dropped and then have nothing to rely on."

A lot of guys might already be fantasizing about running down the floor of the nearby Forum, taking a handoff from Magic Johnson and driving to the hoop. But not Butler. He realizes it'll be three more years until he can even get to college .

Still, even the most realistic of athletes dream. And Butler has plenty to dream about.

Think of the possibilities.

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