NBA prospect Jared Butler: 'I truly believed we were going to win the NCAA championship'

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

NBA prospect Jared Butler: 'I truly believed we were going to win the NCAA championship'

DunkWire

NBA prospect Jared Butler: 'I truly believed we were going to win the NCAA championship'

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Baylor Bears sophomore guard Jared Butler is largely considered one of the top 3-and-D guards who will be available in the 2020 NBA draft.

Butler was consistently one of the best players on one of the best teams in D-I college basketball. The 19-year-old guard spoke to HoopsHype about how he has been preparing for the upcoming draft while reflecting on his experience with the Baylor Men’s Basketball program.

Please note that this transcription has been minorly edited for clarity.

Obviously, we’re in a strange situation in regards to the draft. What have you been doing to keep yourself focused and prepared for the draft and potentially becoming a professional basketball player? 

Jared Butler: As far as getting ready for the draft, I’ve continued working out on and off the court with strength and conditioning. That’s been really good. I’ve been preparing for the interview process before the draft. I’ve been interviewed by NBA teams and they’ve been learning a lot about me. I’ve been enjoying the process, not going to lie. 

How would you describe your game to someone who has heard good things but hasn’t had a chance to watch you play yet? 

JB: I’m a poised, smooth, competitive player. When the ball is in my hand with three minutes left and we’re up, I’m going to act like it’s the beginning of the game. I’m willing to take the big shots. I’m willing to make the right pass and make the game look easy. That’s what you’d expect if you have never seen me play before. 

When you’re talking with NBA teams and executives, what is one thing you want them to know?

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JB: First and foremost, I want them to know my personality and what type of person I am. I also want them to know about my winning attitude and the presence of winning that I have in my life. I think those are the two most important things that I present at every interview.

Baylor had an incredible season and I believe that you played a huge role in that. When you talk about your winning presence, what are some other areas that you’ve been able to win at in your life? 

JB: When I was in sixth grade, my AAU team was ranked sixth in the country. The high school I went to, we won three state championships. Two were in basketball and one was in football. During my senior year of high school, our basketball team went 23-0 at one point. I’ve also had success at Baylor. All of my life, no matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always made an impact on winning. I didn’t do it alone – but the personality that I bring, the accountability, the habits – those are the things I bring to the table. 

That’s amazing, I didn’t realize you were a football champion as well. How do you think your football background has helped you become a better basketball player? 

JB: Being a competitor and going through the hardships of a football player, going through the hard practices, playing in the Louisiana heat, it was all a great way to experience competition with your friends at the time. I enjoyed it a lot. The way I used my body on the football field helped me on the basketball court, too. I think you should play as many sports as you can because you can learn a lot from each of them. 

What position did you play in football? Do you think you could have had a career in football as well?

JB: I played quarterback and wide receiver. I got recruited in football, too, but I wasn’t that much into it. I didn’t go to the camps in the summer. I just played on Friday nights. I think I could have gone to college and played football. 

Being a multi-sport athlete, what drew you to basketball and how did you fall in love with the game? 

JB: Growing up, my older brother would play basketball outside with his friends. He would get ten guys to pull up and they would hoop. I always wanted to join but they never let me play. When I finally got the chance to play, there would be times where I would run inside crying because they were playing too hard. I was smaller and not as athletic, but I fell in love with the challenge of playing with the older guys. My dad used to tell me, you’re either going to stay inside and cry with me, or you can go back outside and play. I would go back outside every time. I think that’s where I found my love for the game. I love the challenge that basketball brings; the ups and downs of the game and trying to stay even keel. 

How did you solidify your game to become the player you are today?

JB: I played for an AAU team out in New Orleans and the culture out there is that it is a dog eat dog world. There’s a lot of people out there trying to be successful in sports. For me, that’s helped mold and shape me to be the competitor that I am today. When I’m faced with a situation, I’m confident in what I do, and my ability to go up against anybody. Coach Darrel Johnson was my coach from third grade through seventh grade. Coach Steve was his assistant and I still talk to him today. They taught me how to do the three-man weave, the 4-on-5 transition drill and the 2-on-1 drill. They expected a high level from us. We were just kids playing basketball because we thought it was cool. But those coaches set down the foundation for who I am today and I can’t thank them enough.  

Baylor had an excellent season this year, what are some of the ways that you’ve been able to reconcile with the season being cut short?  

“If it’s raining outside, I can’t be mad about it, because I can’t control that. I look at this process with the NBA as a great way to get my mind off of how the season ended.” -Jared Butler (PHOTO: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports)

JB: To be honest, I try not to think about it. The only time I think about it is when people bring it up. It’s a tough pill to swallow. The players we had at Baylor were a phenomenal group of guys and I really enjoyed playing with them. For me, I have to look at what’s coming in my life and only try to control what I can control. I think a lot of times we get anxiety and worry about the things we can’t control. If it’s raining outside, I can’t be mad about it, because I can’t control that. I look at this process with the NBA as a great way to get my mind off of how the season ended.

With all of the high hopes surrounding Baylor’s season this year, what do you think the ceiling could have been like? 

JB: It’s easy to say now, but I truly believed we were going to win the NCAA championship. I truly believe that. I think we would have won the Big 12 tournament, too. I wanted that one so bad. But we would have at least made it to the Final Four. 

What are some of your favorite memories playing for Baylor? Are there any moments that stand out? 

JB: When we played Texas Tech at home, the game ended with a double-overtime win. When we played Texas at home, we came back from an 18-point deficit with twelve minutes left in the game. Winning at Kansas, that was a big one. There were so many times where we had a lot of fun celebrating in the locker room after a successful night on the court. 

There were a lot of believers in that Baylor team, and I definitely was one. You guys had a Top 5 defense in all of college basketball. You had a big part to play with your steal percentage and guarding the perimeter. What was your mentality on that side of the court, and what kind of role did you play? 

Opponents shot just 26.5% on jump shots against Jared Butler, per Synergy (PHOTO: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

JB: I don’t want to take all of the credit from guys like Davion Mitchell who was a tremendous on-ball defender. Freddie Gillespie, who could guard the ball screen. Mark Vital, who was a complete animal. MaCio Teague, who knew how to scout players and find their tendencies as well. But I’m a guy who was a reliable defender and able to lock in for multiple possessions. When we need a stop, I’m able to defend by scouting players too. I knew the other team’s offense, and I knew what we were trying to do defensively against them. I wanted to be a guy who was reliable, a guy who would talk on that end of the floor and a guy who would scout the other team and know their plays and tendencies beforehand. I was always helping other guys remember the scouting reports, and that plays a huge part in college basketball because we play everybody twice. Playing defense is definitely a chess game. 

What do you think your defensive role will eventually be in the NBA? 

JB: Being a guard, I’m going to guard the ball-screen a lot. I’ll be guarding guys running off screens and things of that nature. For me, it’ll be about guarding my position. I think that’ll be my biggest role.

You’re a really talented spot-up shooter with a good jump shot and catch-and-shoot game. One thing that stands out to me is your ability to shoot off the catch while being guarded by a defender. I’d love to hear about the evolution of your shot. Where is it now where do you think it might be headed? 

Jared Butler on guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers (via Synergy)

JB: It’s a long process. It definitely took a lot of making shots during workouts and missing in a game, which can be the most frustrating part. But shooting comes very naturally for me. I don’t feel like I force shots up. When I’m shooting off screens or off the dribble, it all feels very natural to me. I think coach [Scott Drew] did a great job using me in those types of situations. The sky’s the limit with my shooting ability. I want to be able to shoot the ball at a high percentage. The object of the game is to put the ball in the hole, so I always want to be a better shooter. 

Many people mention that you possess the best handles in the 2020 draft class. What is the history behind your ballhandling ability? 

JB: I think for me, a lot of it had to do with trial and error and trying new things out. I’m great at keeping my experiences in the back of my head, so if one move worked a certain way, then I’m going to remember that and use it to the best of my ability. I spend a lot of time in the gym working out my shoulders and getting the quickness I need to be an excellent ball-handler. I think I’m crafty. I know the tendencies of the defense and I know what gets guys moving in certain ways. I also utilize my hips by changing directions and staying low. 

Who are some of the greatest ballhandlers in the league right now?

JB: I’d say Damian Lillard is the guy I look up to the most. I also like Kyrie Irving with the way he handles the ball. Chris Paul was a big one for me growing up in elementary and middle school. 

Next year, you’ll be playing in a league that has a high demand for players who can space the floor with their shooting abilities. How do you think your catch-and-shoot game will help you in the NBA? 

JB: I think it will keep me on the floor or get me on the floor earlier. You always want a guy who can take advantage of an open look created by another player, someone who can knock down an open shot. I think I can grow in that role and become a bigger contributor to winning.

What made you comfortable with your ability to perform dribble handoffs and other off-screen actions? Did you work with a specific big man?

JB: Not with a big man necessarily, but I do work on screen actions, flairs, curls, different pin downs and my footwork off the dribble and off the screen. I work and take pride in that a lot because I think that’s where the game is.

So many of your points came from possessions off the pick-and-roll action. What is your comfort in the pick-and-roll and how do you think you can use that to your advantage at the next level? 

JB: My comfortability comes from being able to read the defense during pick-and-roll plays. Sometimes I predetermine what I’m going to do, but nine out of ten times, I’m able to take the right shot or make the right pass out of the pick-and-roll. The play is a chess match, and I love the advantage it gives me. Playing against seven-footers and going downhill in the lane is a great aspect of my game. I use the play to the best of my abilities. 

Another thing that stands out about your game is your floater. Tell me more about your teardrop and how you’ve worked on it as you’ve gotten older.

JB: When I got to college, Coach Drew didn’t recommend shooting floaters. He did mention that we’ll need it for the next level, so we would work on it during practice. I think it’s a shot you need as a point guard as a player in the NBA. I’ve been working on getting the high touch and being able to shoot it off of one foot or the same foot. I think those are the shots where the big hasn’t made a decision yet and you make a decision for them. He can’t guard the pass and the floater at the same time, so I think that’s going to expand my scoring. 

What is your relationship with the mid-range game these days? 

JB: I think a lot of people have gone away from it, especially in the NBA. I think as a guard playing the pick-and-roll action, you have to have it and you have to be able to make it. Those are the dagger shots that people don’t expect. A lot of bigs play drop coverage in the NBA so you have to have it in your bag. 

We may not have an NBA combine this year but are there any drills that you would excel at if you were tested? 

JB: I think my lane agility time would be pretty good. I trained on it a lot in high school and at Baylor. I would have also done well during the shooting aspect of the combine, too. 

What are some of the ways that you used your size for your advantage? 

JB: I have broad shoulders and a great core in regards to finishing through contact at the rim. I can use my body in different situations that allow me to score. My whole life, I’ve been taught to use my body in different ways. I continue applying what I’ve learned every day through my experiences and keep getting better every day. 

What are some things that you like to do outside of basketball? How would you describe yourself outside of the game? 

JR: I like to watch movies, especially rom-coms. My favorite one is The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston. I like to play UNO a lot. The guys in my house and I have played about 100 to 200 games in the past week or so. I’m very competitive. I like watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy. I’m also a Christian, so I love being in the church and being with people.  

What kind of music do you like? What do you listen to before games? 

JR: I’m a big Drake fan. He just dropped an album that’s pretty cool. I also listen to country music like Luke Combs and Jason Aldean because I’ve been in Texas a lot. JB: In the locker room we play Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert, and Drake. Those are the 3 biggest artists that we listen to. 

What are your favorite tracks off the new Drake tape? 

JR: “Deep Pockets” and “Time Flies” and “From Florida With Love” are my three recommendations. 

What are some goals you have for yourself off the court?

JB: I take my faith very seriously. Growing in my faith is my priority and my number one goal. Also being able to build and value relationships off the court. I would say those are two goals of mine. On the court, I want to be a winner. I want to be somebody that’s respected as a winner. 

Speaking of being a winner, what are some things that you’ve picked up watching the new Jordan documentary on ESPN?

JB: There is a moment in the documentary where Jordan is placed with minute restrictions and he wanted to play more at the end of a game. It’s so inspirational. That’s what I want and want to be. I think the documentary has done a great job showing what he’s done and who he is. Jordan has a competitiveness problem and I do too. 

For players in your generation who grew up watching Kobe and Lebron, how important is it for them to learn about Michael Jordan? 

JB: I was born in 2000, so I only heard about Jordan from my parents and people talking about him. I never got the chance to see him play. I think people can learn a lot from him. He did so much for the game in terms of on the court, off the court, style, the way you play the game, and what really matters. It would be a disservice not to learn about Michael Jordan and how he impacted the game. 

What are some of your favorite kicks to play in? What about fashion in general? Do you have any favorite brands? 

JB: I like Giannis’ shoe, the Zoom Freak 1’s that just came out. I wear that a lot. I like Kyrie 5’s. They feel pretty comfortable. Those are my go-to shoes. I’m not a big fashion guy, but I like jeans with zippers. I like simple but authentic tees. Shirts that have subtle designs on them. I also love hoodies. 

Is there anything else that you want people to know about you?

JB: I want people to know that I’m a Christian and I value relationships. Other than that, I’m good.

When did you realize that being a professional basketball player in the NBA was a realistic dream for you? 

JB: For me, it always seemed like a long-term goal, but I definitely realized this year that the NBA was calling. It’s kind of hard to realize it, but once you do, your mindset changes. It probably happened for me during the middle of the season. We were having success during the season. Guys who have success in college naturally have success in the NBA, and our team was good. We were the number one team in the country and I was producing. 

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