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Those who knew him closely, however, knew Butterfield had true love only for basketball. He had played the game since he was 2 years old. Although friends and football coaches tried to talk him into switching his main game, he wouldn’t budge.
His toughness showed on court, too. During an AAU game, Butterfield was knocked unconscious by an opposing player, sustaining a concussion among other injuries that sent him to the hospital. He was back in school not long after, and completed a senior project to rebuild the school’s trophy cases during his recovery.
Illinois State at Utah State
O At Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan)
Tipoff » 7 p.m.
Radio » 960 AM, 1060 AM
Records » Illinois State 16-12, 7-9; Utah State 18-7, 9-5
Series history » Illinois State leads, 3-2
Last meeting » March 19, 2008 at ISU (NIT); ISU 61, USU 57
About the Aggies » USU is playing its second nonconference game of the week after losing to BYU 70-68 on Tuesday night. … Spencer Butterfield is averaging 13.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in his 19 contests as a starter. … Jarred Shaw ranks in the top 10 in the WAC in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocks.
About the Redbirds » Illinois State is coming off back-to-back losses after winning seven of the previous eight games. … Against Evansville, Jackie Carmichael became only the seventh player in MVC history to record 1,500 points and 900 rebounds. … The Redbirds entered the week ranked in the NCAA top 50 in scoring offense, field-goal percentage and assists per game.
A closer look
Spencer Butterfield in 2012-13:
Min FG% FT% A Pts
28.5 .485 .833 2.5 12.0
Note » He’s averaged 17.4 points in his past nine games, including a season-high 23 against Texas-Arlington on Jan. 24.
Some of his teammates called him "Gladiator."
"He wants to win at everything," Broyles said. "We knew he was going to be a phenomenal player because he’s such a great competitor. I absolutely thought he was a Division I player."
Many D-1 basketball programs didn’t agree, so Butterfield went 45 minutes north to Yuba College, where he quickly gained respect among more athletic players as being the best grinder on the team.
He started a near-legendary physical regimen in the preseason: He would work on his jumping for an hour before practice, then practice with the team for two hours, then lift weights, then run, then shoot with the team. He virtually lived at the gym.
Cornelius learned the quickest way to humble himself was to insist that Butterfield couldn’t do something he wanted to do. He used to tease Butterfield for working on passing with his left hand, his weaker hand, in practice. Cornelius watched him play BYU this week, and counted five left-handed passes.
"You’ve got to understand: There are other kids with more talent, but in work ethic, no one else is in the same hemisphere," Cornelius said. "You have to respect him, because he’ll outwork you. And then other guys think they should be working as hard as this guy. It’s kind of infectious."
At Yuba, Butterfield was the California junior college co-player of the year. As Cornelius likes to point out to his team this year, he did it without dunking once.
Utah State beat out Virginia for Butterfield in the end, bringing the guard’s Division I dreams to fruition. Some of his friends and family were able to make the trek from Loomis to San Jose State to watch him play this month. They’re excited to see one of their own succeed.
Butterfield’s already got the next game on his mind. And even when he’s confronted by defeat and forced to deal with it, he keeps looking ahead.
"Play as hard as you can — that’s just kind of my answer for everything," he said. "If you’re not playing great at the time or hitting shots, as long as you’re playing hard, people respect that."
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