Our final memory of Da'Sean Butler at West Virginia consisted of Bob Huggins consoling the senior late in the Mountaineers' Final Four loss to Duke as he writhed in pain clutching his left knee.
It was maybe the NCAA tournament's most somber moment, but Butler insists he will not let reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL and sprained MCL prevent him from achieving his NBA dreams.
"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 told the Charleston Gazette this week. "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."
If the image of Huggins tenderly tending to Butler was both touching and a tad uncomfortable, at the very least we could all certainly empathize with the West Virginia star. Instead of taking a few days to shake off the season-ending loss and then delving into draft preparation, Butler underwent surgery and began a grueling six-month rehab process knowing it's unlikely a pro team will offer guaranteed money to a player deemed an injury risk.
Once a fringe NBA prospect not big enough to play in the paint but not a consistent enough outside shooter to play guard, Butler had played his way into first-round consideration with a spectacular senior season. He sank six game-winning shots during the season, earning second-team All-American honors and leading the Mountaineers to the Final Four for the first time since 1959.
"You can't help but look at the reality of the situation, which in my case was that I had worked myself into something and then I lost it,'' Butler said. "But I always look at the positives of everything. No, I'm not going to get guaranteed money right off the bat, but even if I just go and get a one-year contract and work hard and they keep me, then I get guaranteed money the next year. It's all up to me.'"