Saturday night, Caron Butler was immortalized as one of the greatest in the history of UConn basketball when he was inducted into the Huskies of Honor at halftime of the UConn men’s basketball team’s 75-73 win.
If you know anything about the history of UConn basketball, you know it’s not a surprise that Butler is up there on the wall in Gampel. He’s one of the best players to ever put on a UConn jersey. In fact, the only surprise is that it took this long for him to be inducted.
Of course, it’s hard to find time when you are a 14-year veteran of the NBA, NBA Champion and a two-time All-Star that has scored over 12,000 points in your career, but after nearly a decade and a half, “Tuff Juice” finally got his day and the recognition he deserves.
Personally, being able to see Butler get inducted to the Huskies of Honor and hear his emotional acceptance speech was a dream come true. Butler is my favorite Husky of all-time, and a big part of the reason why I love this school and this program as much as I do.
When I was younger, I was just like any other Connecticut kid. I loved the Huskies, watched as many of them as I possibly could and had the opportunity to go to a good amount of games at Gampel Pavilion.
I can’t recall an exact game, but all I remember is something that is super obvious: he was really, really good. He also played harder than anyone I’ve ever seen on the court at Gampel. I love stats and ratings, but when someone busts their ass each and every play of every game, people notice. When I was younger, I wanted to play just like Butler. I’d always try to wear No. 3, play like he did and hustle every play. He was the heart and soul of the teams he played on, and he instilled the work ethic and passion into teammates Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, who led the Huskies to a title in 2004.
That being said, Butler put up the numbers too. He scored over 1,000 points in just two seasons. He averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists his sophomore season, which was his last year in Storrs and the year he won Big East Player of the Year. And it’s impossible to mention Butler without mentioning the Elite 8 game against Maryland in 2002, where Butler scored 32 points, 26 in the second half, nearly single-handedly willing the Huskies to victory over the Terrapins, who would go on to win the championship.
The combination of skill, athletic ability and will to win is why so many people, myself included, love Caron Butler. He’s a man who turned his life around after being arrested 15 times by the time he was 15 years old to becoming a college legend at one the best basketball programs in history, long-time NBA veteran and a caring, loving family man. He’s a modern-day success story. Why there hasn’t been a movie about his life yet is beyond me.
But back to Saturday night. When Butler addressed the crowd and saw his No. 3 up on Gampel’s wall, he could barely hold back his tears, especially with his old coach, Jim Calhoun, in attendance.
That’s the cool thing about UConn and college basketball in general. Butler loves UConn. He met his wife here. He always says how he grew into a man here. His time at UConn prepared him not just for the NBA, but for life after that too. And above all, for someone who has played all over the country and in some of the greatest arenas in the world, he couldn’t have looked happier to set foot back in Gampel.
I’ve always liked college basketball better than NBA, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been starting to wonder why. Seeing Butler Saturday night explained it all. Having one of my childhood idols recognized for his amazing accomplishments put a huge smile on my face, and made me realize how great this school really is.
I’ll never be like Caron Butler on the basketball court. Few, if any, who step onto campus here will. But if I can be as great as he is off the court to his friends, family and this great university, I’ll be thrilled.