"I used to tell him, 'Ricky, come home and go to school at home,' and he said, 'No, Mom, I want to stay,' " Doris Butler said. "He called every day, sometimes twice a day. It was hard, he was only 14, but it was a decision he made. I look back on it, and I think he made the best decision, even though I didn't want him to go."
Butler says the transfer changed his life by giving him a better high school education, and by making college an option.
"I wasn't even thinking about college before I came down here," Butler said.
He certainly was not thinking about Irvine.
Butler signed with Kansas during the fall of his senior year, and Harris says he told the school then that Butler probably would not score high enough on the Scholastic Aptitude Test to be eligible to play as a freshman. But when that happened, Kansas made it clear that he was no longer welcome.
Butler was devastated.
"When they dealt that blow . . . he's a very sensitive kid," Harris said. "The only place he could see himself going was some place where he felt comfortable."
Mike Labatt, a former Ocean View player, was at Irvine, and Butler chose to join him.
But Butler had to sit out his freshman year under Proposition 48, and was not allowed to practice. That was when the extra pounds first started to find their way onto his 6-7 frame.
"I didn't eat a lot, I just ate all the time," Butler said.
Before he reported for his first practice, he had tipped the scales near 300 pounds.
"I probably came in at about 290," he said. "After I hit 290, I got scared."
One of the most painful times had come that spring, when Kansas, led by Danny Manning, won the NCAA title. Butler watched on television, knowing that he might have been there, but that Kansas had changed its mind about him.
Bitter at not being part of it, Butler pulled for Oklahoma in the championship game.
"I was hoping Kansas would lose," he said. "I sat at home hoping they'd lose. I did."
Between not being at Kansas, and not even being able to practice at Irvine, Butler was adrift.
"The year he had to sit out, that was hard on him," Butler's mother said. Harris saw the same thing.
"Without basketball, I think he was pretty lost," Harris said. "Physically, he just ballooned. He was very down and wasn't happy. It was a very, very long year."
It was a year that had a lasting effect.
"Add those things up, it was a brutal year for him," Harris said. "I think it's taken him almost two years to recover."
Last season was the next, painful chapter.
"After the losing season, he matured," Harris said.
Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan says he has seen the phenomenon before in players such as Butler and Wayne Engelstad. With the end of their careers in sight, the players rededicate themselves to the game so they can have a chance to play professionally.
Butler said that is the idea.
"I wanted to lose the weight," he said. "I knew it would be important for this season."
He also knew it was important for life after basketball.
"I don't think I'll ever be fat again because I don't want to be fat," he said. "I can't afford it."
In his uniform, Butler still looks overweight on the court. It is baggy, and he occasionally runs as if the load is heavy. But when he is in street clothes, you can tell the weight is gone. And if you watch him play for awhile, it is clear.
He is able to use his quickness to drive now, and less likely to get stuck in traffic because of his bulk.
In practice, he can run conditioning drills with the rest of the team instead of finishing late, if at all.
And the dunks that have been so rare since high school are part of his game again, to Butler's joy.
The bulk of the season lies ahead, and it will tell if he has become the player he thought he could--or as far as college basketball is concerned, if he ever will.
"I think if he had gone to Kansas, or been somewhere in a high Division I, high-profile school with a lot of players of his caliber, the story would have emerged the way he had hoped it to," Harris said. "It still might, and if it doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying."