Picture this: An 11-year veteran of the National Basketball Assn. sees a youngster at a basketball camp and arranges for him to attend a certain school. The student goes on to become a dominant player in high school and is contacted by the likes of Georgetown, Syracuse, five schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference and every school in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Does the former professional deserve credit for developing a star athlete? Not exactly.
When former Laker forward Happy Hairston saw Mitchell Butler at a camp and arranged for him to attend Oakwood, a small private school in North Hollywood, athletics was the last thing on the agenda. Academics was the primary concern.
"I was about 7 or 8 when I went to Happy's basketball camp," Butler said. "When he found out I was a good student, the following year he talked to Oakwood and scheduled an interview for me. I started attending in sixth grade."
Don't get the impression, however, that Butler hasn't made an impression as an athlete--letters from dozens of colleges are the proof.
The 6-foot, 5 1/2-inch forward could have played at any basketball-crazed secondary school in Los Angeles, but he stayed at Oakwood. Last season, as a sophomore, Butler was second in the Valley area in scoring, averaging 28 points a game. As a rebounder, he was one better, leading Valley-area players with an average of 17.1 a game. Oakwood was 20-6 last season and advanced to the Southern Section 1-A semifinals.
And as Butler has helped the basketball team, so basketball has helped him. Butler is one of more than 30 students in the Hairston Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization founded 12 years ago by the former Laker forward.
"We get less fortunate kids, primarily minorities, and we get them in top private schools," Hairston said. "We help transport them, pay for tuition, books, everything, all the way through college."
Oakwood, with an enrollment of about 300, is not known for athletics. But Butler, who maintains a 3.3 grade-point average in college-preparatory classes, has no regrets about choosing the school, even though he considered transferring to a larger school in eighth grade.
"I chose Oakwood because of the academics," Butler said. "I wanted to pursue a career in law, medicine or business. If I had known that I would mature physically into the person I am, from a very narrow-minded perspective, I might have chosen a bigger and better school with a better athletic program."
Despite having followed Butler as he blossomed into a Division I prospect, Hairston has seen Butler play only once. A former NBA player in the stands attracts more attention than the players on the court.
"He obviously possesses the qualities it takes to get to the point where he wants to go in basketball," Hairston said. "He has a great nose for basketball, natural jumping ability and the smarts to play--all the positive ingredients."
With that jumping ability, Butler, who has grown 1 1/2 inches since last year, was the 1-A long jump champion last year, tying the division record with a leap of 23-2 1/2.
"One of the best things about Mitch is he is probably the only player with absolutely no ego," Oakwood Coach Roz Goldenberg said. "He'd rather be known as a doctor than as a basketball player. Somebody with as much talent as he has would be difficult to work with, but he's just completely selfless."
The Doctor? Butler operates effectively in class and on the court.
COACH: Roz Goldenberg, third year
LAST SEASON: 20-6; first in league, 12-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: With the league's dominant player in Mitch Butler, the defending league champion will be fighting off challenges from Yeshiva and Holy Martyrs to repeat. But Butler (28 ppg, 15.1 rpg) is not the Gorillas' only weapon. "We're not going to be running our offense just looking to get it in to Mitch," Goldenberg said. "We got other people that can do the job, too." Butler (6-5 1/2, 195) is a widely recruited Division I prospect, a three-year starter who will be the Gorillas power forward. "Mitch has the kind of ability and versatility that he can go to the hoop or pull up for the three-point shot," Goldenberg said. With Butler, a junior, playing a high post, senior center David Fond (6-4, 160) should be the team's top rebounder. Eric Leddel (6-0, 150), a four-year starter, runs Oakwood's offense at point guard. Oakwood's other two starters will be senior forward Mark Williams (6-1, 150) and Adam Mehr (5-8, 140) at guard. Junior center John Mark (6-3, 185) and sophomore forward Jim Cossman (6-2, 160) will come off the bench.
COACH: Varant Vartabevian, fourth year
LAST SEASON: 16-5; 2nd in league, 12-2