MORGANTOWN - The irony was not lost upon Da'Sean Butler. But then again, neither was the reality.
There was Butler last weekend, hobbling around on a set of crutches and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for a youth baseball league in Bridgeport. It wasn't just any group of kids, though, but rather the participants in the Challenger League for kids with handicaps.
"Yeah, me just hobbling out there was pretty funny,'' Butler said. "But I'm just a guy who has to use crutches for a while. That's nothing compared to doing what some of those kids do their whole lives.''
Suffice it to say that nothing that has happened to Butler in the past month has dampened either his sense of humor or his sense of perspective. But to go so far as to say that it hasn't been a challenge would be a stretch.
It was on April 3 that Butler went crashing to the floor at the Final Four in Indianapolis, both he and his future lying on a Lucas Oil Stadium basketball floor in a heap. The third-leading scorer in West Virginia basketball history, just nine minutes away from the end of his college career and the prospect of NBA riches, tore the ACL, sprained the MCL and bruised two bones in his left knee in the Mountaineers' national semifinal loss to Duke.
What has followed is major reconstructive knee surgery in Florida less than a week later, daily rehab, the occasional public appearance and, yes, a few doubts.
"There's always maybe one or two days every two weeks where rehab gets so bad that I'll just sit down and think, 'Man, I hate this,' '' Butler said. "But you have to keep your faith and understand that everything happens for a reason. It's going to be painful, but you have to go with it and just roll with the punches.
"I have my days when I think, 'OK, I don't want to play basketball anymore. It's time to start thinking about coaching so I can get this ice off my knee.' But if I stick it out it's going to make me a tougher person and a player. But I'll look back on it one day and know that if I can take it, I mean anybody can take it. I saw a girl the other day who tore hers the same time I tore mine and she's walking. I was jealous. She's tougher than I am.''
Truth be told, Butler is walking a bit, too. In fact, he's doing it just a little better than he sometimes likes to lead on. He walked into a Chinese buffet restaurant in Morgantown Monday evening on his well-worn crutches and just smiled.
"I don't need them, but if I'm walking no one will go get my food for me,'' he joked. "[His walk] looks a little awkward, but I'm getting better. It's a process.''
The real process for Butler, though, is the one in the big picture. Rehabilitating a reconstructed knee is a long and tedious process, one that in Butler's case he's been told will take six months. There are baby steps all along the way, but the ultimate goal is to simply return him to where he was before his last college game - namely as an NBA prospect.
The NBA draft is June 24 and before his knee buckled on him Butler had worked himself into a pretty good position. Long considered a bit of a reach for NBA teams because at 6-foot-7 he has both tweener size and skills (not big enough to play in the frontcourt and without the dead-eye shot and ball skills of a guard), Butler's stock rose steadily with his senior-season performance. In leading West Virginia to its best season in more than a half century, Butler eased many of those concerns by simply proving that he can play the game and is a winner.
Many mock NBA drafts had Butler as a late-first-round pick prior to his injury. At the worst, he was certain to be selected in one of the draft's two rounds. Had he played his way into the first round - now is the time when healthy players are beginning individual workouts that will ultimately decide their draft status - it would have meant a guaranteed contract for two years and no less than $1.7 million.