This wasn’t supposed to happen to Caron Butler. He grew up in a tough neighborhood in Racine, Wisconsin, was arrested as a teenager and had a reputation of being a “bad kid.”
He defied the odds and turned his life around.
On Saturday night in front of 10,167 fans at Gampel Pavilion, Butler was welcomed home as he was inducted into the Huskies of Honor.
“Time goes by so fast. You just reflect on all the special moments, like walking from the 7/11, going to your dorm room, late night shooting and the preparation…All those moments were vivid in my mind,” Butler said.
All he needed was for someone to take a chance on him.
Then UConn men’s basketball head coach Jim Calhoun did exactly that. Butler described Calhoun’s belief in him as a life-changing moment.
“(Calhoun) was special. (I was) a kid that had a checkered past, checkered background. I was just trying to prove that my character was worthy of a prestigious university like Connecticut. He flew out to Racine, Wisconsin and took a chance on me. He told me once I’m a part of this, ‘you’re family for life. I believe in you.’ I’m forever grateful to him and the university,” Butler said
The ceremony, lasting about 10 minutes, began with a short video montage of Butler’s highlights at UConn. The Gampel crowd showered him with a loving and welcoming reception as he stepped to center court to accept a plaque. He was joined on the court by his wife, his five children and other members of his family. UConn President Susan Herbst, outgoing athletic director Warde Manuel and Calhoun greeted Butler on the floor.
In his two seasons at UConn, 2000-02, Butler established himself as one of the best players in the Big East. He led the Huskies in scoring and rebounding as a freshman, only to see his production increase as a sophomore. He averaged 20.3 ppg, leading UConn to the regular season and conference tournament titles in 2002. He was named co-Conference Player of the Year and was a second team All-American.
Yet, it wasn’t the games where Butler truly stood out, according to current UConn head coach Kevin Ollie.
“I wasn’t around when (Butler) was here, but I’d come back and play with him in the summertime. Coach (George) Blaney always spoke that he was the best player on the court every day in practice and in the games. That’s very, very hard to do. I saw Kemba do it, but it’s few that can do it. To be the best player every day, practice, in the game, he’s just what UConn players are supposed to be, on and off the court,” Ollie said.
Butler, a 14-year veteran in the NBA now with the Sacramento Kings, was clearly moved during the ceremony. He was fighting off tears when he addressed the crowd.
“That was extremely emotional right there,” Butler said. “I did not think Calhoun was going to be here, for one. I saw him out the corner of my eye and it made the whole moment emotional right off the top."
Butler is the 25th man to get inducted into the Huskies of Honor, joining the likes of Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker, and Rudy Gay. Those four, plus Andre Drummond, Charlie Villanueva and Jeremy Lamb, make up the full list of former UConn stars currently in the NBA. Butler, a two-time All Star, is the most senior member of that group.
“It’s big brother,” Butler said. “I play with Rudy now and I played with Andre last year in Detroit. Every time I come in to any city, I find out one of my brothers are there, I’ll go check on them. This past summer, being in Los Angeles being with Ben Gordon, checking on him. I’m the O.G. now, it’s crazy to say it, it happened so fast. I guess I gotta go check on everyone. It’s cool, I embrace it, I love it. It’s good shoes to be in."
It was certainly a special moment inside Gampel. UConn basketball has developed into one of the premier programs in America. Nights like this, with players like Caron Butler, make the program what it is.
“It means the world to him and it means the world to us. He’s part of our family now,” Ollie said. “He’s doing a great job being a vet to some young guys in Sacramento. He’s going to do a lot of things in his life. He’s going to touch a lot of people. He’s touched me tremendously over the years. I consider him a great person and a great friend and a great part of our family. It’s great that we can honor him at a time like this.”