Butler grew up, grew comfortable with his shot, embracing FSU

John Butler Jr. grew up playing basketball with his parents, who both played and coached the sport. Butler kept growing, adding six inches between his sixth and seventh-grade years.

The tallest kid in his class, Butler often played the post. But the thousands of hours in the gym suggested he was a guard in a big man’s body.

“It took a lot of hard work,” Butler Jr. told the Osceola. “When I got to the sixth grade, I started seeing the game evolving. I did a lot of agility drills, speed drills. Sixth, seventh grade it was a dream — ‘I want to play college basketball. I want to play high-major DI basketball.’ ”

Butler’s work, coaching from his parents, and continued growth to 7-foot-1 helped him fulfil that dream. He was viewed as the No. 51 player in the nation by 247Sports, averaging 20 points and eight rebounds while helping Christ Church Episcopal High (and his father/coach, John Butler Sr.) win the state Class 2A title in the 2020-21 season.

Early in his high school career, Butler Jr. began evaluating schools. Growing up in Greenville, S.C., Butler Jr. lived in the shadow of Clemson, which “recruited me pretty hard,” and nearby South Carolina, where his parents are alumni, was also appealing. Butler connected with FSU early and confident in where he wanted to play.

“What was really important to me was trusting the coaching staff,” Butler Jr. said. “Who can I really trust? In the recruiting process a lot of coaches and recruiters might tell you one thing and it might not be 100 percent true when you get there. I just felt like Florida State, the honesty and the coaches and the reputation they had, I needed to be there.”

FSU’s coaches also needed Butler Jr., who is a center in height but plays like a stretch 4 — a power forward who can knock down jumpers but also has good touch around the rim. Butler Jr. had a season-high 14 points and a critical block in the final seconds of overtime against Duke, and he is averaging 7.2 points while shooting 7 of 14 from 3-point range in his last five games.

“He’s such unselfish guy,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “And he’s the child of a coach. He thinks the game. But I think you are going to see him become more and more aggressive on the offensive end. He’s getting better on the defensive end, he’s starting to rebound more. He has shot-blocking ability. And he’s a pretty good passer. I think right now, like most freshmen in the country, he’s still growing and developing. I think his best basketball is ahead of him. 

“But right now we probably need him to be a little bit more aggressive offensively to make up for some of the inexperience stuff that we’re going through now.”

FSU (13-7, 6-4 ACC) is in a critical spot going into Wednesday’s game at Clemson. The Seminoles have dropped two straight games, and Hamilton said Monday morning that Caleb Mills (tonsillitis) and RayQuan Evans (mourning brother’s death) are doubtful for the matchup with the Tigers. It’s a difficult position for an FSU team that features depth but now could be without three of its top rotational players, including forward Malik Osborne (who will have season-ending ankle surgery).

Butler Jr. has been a bright spot, leading the team in 3-point shooting (44.7 percent) and blocks (15). While he hasn’t added much weight to his 190-pound frame since arriving at FSU last summer, Butler Jr. credits strength and conditioning coach Mike Bradley for helping him in the weight room. “I feel stronger,” Butler Jr. said.

The nerves of the two exhibition games are well behind Butler Jr., who said the reality hit immediately in November.

“It was the maximum nervous I have ever been in my life,” Butler Jr. said. “I’m playing college basketball. I’m playing for coach Ham. It’s the real deal. After we played our exhibition games my nerves calmed down a little bit. I started feeling more comfortable after the Florida game.”

Butler Jr. settled in well. He was 5 of 8 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, in FSU’s upset of then-No. 6 Duke. And he has continued to give quality starting minutes, scoring eight points in each of his last two games.

His shooting has been a constant throughout his first year with FSU.

“I know how much time I put in the gym shooting, the countless hours, thousands of shots since a young age,” Butler Jr. said. “I’m confident in my shot because I know that I’ve made the shot so many times in my life.”

Listen to the full interview with Butler on the Tuck Talk podcast