February 6, 2012

Butterfield redefines ‘tough’

Kevin McCarthy

Options are great as being in a position to exercise a preference is a situation everyone desires. It's no different in the sports world, whether it be selecting a college or even a professional affiliation. Coming out of high school, Yuba College's Spencer Butterfield was in his own 'on one hand, on the other hand' place and his chosen path is a unique one.

photo of Spencer Butterfield player

Coming out of Del Oro High as both a football and basketball talent, Butterfield had various opportunities to go in either direction collegiately. He was a Sacramento Bee All-Metro first-team honoree, enjoyed D-1 gridiron offers and earned similar accolades in prep hoops.

But his long-burning passion was and remains basketball.

Here was a very good football talent, one garnering multiple offers as a physical wide receiver with great hands but being on the turf was never as compelling to him as the siren call of the hardwood.

So the 6-foot-3 and 205-pound Butterfield declined the various pigskin pitches.

He wanted to follow his heart.

"I was told by people that I was better in football but I've been playing basketball from the time I could walk," Butterfield explained. "I love playing it, practicing it, watching it and my dream is to play college basketball. My football playing really got started with a JV coach talking me into playing as a sophomore. It was something I did but I never loved it."

As for basketball, "I want to do it as long as I can."

So, come the end of the 2010 school year, Butterfield looked for his next hoops home.

That turned out to be an hour or so north with Coach Doug Cornelius and Yuba College basketball.

"I was looking around for a winning program" and that was Yuba. "Coach Cornelius is a really nice guy and he told me 'we get players to D-1 and are always in the playoffs.' To me, numbers don't lie and Yuba had them."

Off he went to Marysville, forsaking the proverbial bird in the hand in order to follow his dream.

In that 2010-11 season, 49er backcourter Julian Welch earned all-state honors and then a scholarship to Minnesota. Teammate Mike McChristian was an honorable mention selection and parlayed that into a scholarship with Idaho. Butterfield was chosen as an All Bay Valley Conference member, with Yuba's Anto Olah and Julian Scott joining him.

It also was a season that accelerated the process of Butterfield both advancing and broadening to his skills set.

"In high school, I attacked the rim and bullied people, moving them around and I shot the occasional three if I was wide open," he explained. "But in junior college, I've opened up my shooting and my defense is much better because our focus is on man-to-man."

Three other constants -- playing hard, playing unselfish and strong academics -- remained parts of Butterfield's skills set.

This is someone who posted a 3.9 grade point average during his prep days and is still the ultimate competitor, the latter a term often too loosely employed.

As Cornelius said in an earlier article, "He plays so hard, he rubs off on other players. Spencer wants to win every sprint, he stays after to lift or heads out to the track."

The other night against Merrit, Butterfield scored 42 points (7-for-11 on trey attempts), alongside 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals. In the game previous to that, he went for six points, 12 boards and four assists and this demonstrates one of the positives surrounding the 49er program.

"We recognize who is hot, and try to get them the ball," Butterfield explained. "With us, it's going for 30 while the night before it was going for six." For a team consisting of the top player or players from various high school teams, the 49ers unselfishly share the wealth.

Robert Frost didn't have Butterfield in mind with the poem "The Road Not Taken" but the meaning seems more or less applicable:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both...
...I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Here's how Butterfield succinctly summed up his decision: "I don't regret anything."

Now it's up to the myriad of college basketball coaches, those who preach how they absolutely love tough players, to put scholarship offers where their mouths are because Butterfield’s basketball resume is an impressive one: