Potomac’s Butler savoring success

DUMFRIES — Unable to play as a freshman, Bryan Butler took the time to savor all the wonders of his sophomore year: Potomac’s trip to the state semifinals; the chance to guard Duke-bound marksman J.J. Redick; and the personal honor of making the all-Cedar Run District team.

“All of that was great, but my favorite part was just the crowd — whether it was here [at Potomac] or on the road,” Butler said. “I love playing road games. I like making the other crowd boo, hearing all of that.”

Butler disappointed rival fans on a consistent basis as a starting shooting guard in his first year of high school basketball. He averaged 13.9 points per game, scoring in double figures 20 times, for a Panther team that went 22-6 overall and 8-0 against district foes.

As a ninth-grader, Butler had shown coach Kendall Hayes that he was capable of playing a significant role on the varsity team. However, he was academically ineligible. With the books in order, he played from the outset last year. Prior to this season, his two biggest changes are a new haircut and a return to his middle school number of 15.

“I don’t feel so lost this year,” said Butler, who is rated the sixth best junior in the state by VirginiaPreps.com. “Now I feel like I can answer a question when a teammate asks me about where to go.”

Butler and fellow junior Jason Flagler likely will be the focal points for the Panthers, whose last two losses in March were to the two state finalists. In the Northwest Region championship, Redick-led Cave Spring handled the Panthers in Roanoke. The Knights went on to win the Group AAA state title as Redick scored 43 points in a victory over George Wythe, which had eliminated Potomac in the state final four in Lynchburg.

Before finishing his season by leading Potomac with back-to-back 20-point efforts against Woodside and George Wythe, Butler managed just five points in the regional final against Cave Spring. Redick, last year’s McDonald’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, tallied 29. “J.J. Redick’s the best player I’ve ever played against,” Butler said. “Last year’s playoff games were such a good experience. It felt like being a college or NBA player with all the travel.”

This year, Butler says he might not even be his team’s best shooter, that freshman Eric Hayes already contends for that tag. “He’s probably our smartest player. He knows when to pass and when to shoot.”

Butler, meanwhile, has learned quite a bit since beginning in the sport as an 8-year-old. His mother had signed him up for everything from tennis to T-ball, but basketball would prove to be his game. That fact was backed up again this fall when he left the football team in his first year as a varsity receiver. “Coach [Ben Stutler] could see that I wasn’t having fun, and he even asked me about it before I could say anything,” Butler said.

So Butler’s back on the court, intending to drive to the basket more this season and maybe some day coming up with his first varsity dunk.

“I had no dunks last year, but I know that if I miss I’m out of the game,” the 6-foot Butler said. “My favorite thing about Jason Flagler is that I get to throw him alley-oops all day, and he can score from anywhere. Maybe this year, he’ll get to throw one to me.”

Dunks or no dunks, Butler gives Potomac a versatile scoring threat to go with Flagler. And Butler will quickly get his first chance to be booed this season, as the Panthers visit Gar-Field tonight.

“Bryan Butler can always hit the 3-ball if we need it, and he’s a good penetrator,” Potomac forward Tyrell Freeman said. “He can do everything from making an off-balance shot to looking for his teammates.”

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