Da'Sean Butler arrived at West Virginia four years ago already wiser than the norm.
He had prepped for his first season by studying video tape of the intricate motion offense used by then-coach John Beilein. So deep was his knowledge that Butler received 21 minutes in his Mountaineers' debut, scoring 11 points, grabbing five rebounds and showing his diversity through an offensive game he can take inside or out.
"That certainly is unusual," current West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said before this month's Big East Tournament. "It's unusual to play for John (Beilein) as a freshman because John's offense is so complicated."
Butler's array of talents presented a problem, albeit a pleasant one. A center he wasn't, that much was evident. But a point guard? A 2 or 3 guard? A forward?
"I don't know where he's going to end up," Beilein said back then. "Before he's done here he could wind up playing all four perimeter positions for us."
How prophetic. While Beilein, a Western New York native, has moved on to coach Michigan his vision has become reality. This season alone Butler has played everything from the point to power forward while being voted first-team All-Big East and the MVP of the conference tournament.
Butler is the most versatile athlete for the second-seeded Mountaineers, an accomplished scorer and passer who yearns to have the basketball in his hands when games reach their boiling point. He banked home the game-winning three to repel a Cincinnati upset bid in the Big East quarterfinals. Two days later he drove the lane and, under the duress of heavy traffic, converted a runner with 4.2 seconds remaining in the victory over Georgetown good for West Virginia's first Big East Tournament crown. It was the sixth game-winning shot of the season for the 6-foot-7 senior from Newark, N.J., whose slight build in high school rendered him lightly recruited.
"We expected them to put the ball into Butler's hands and let him make a play," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.
"We ran the same play that we set up for the Cincinnati game," Butler said. "... I came up to the top of the key, and I had to come get the ball and they kind of switched. I think (Greg) Monroe was on me. And I think he had a feeling I was going to shoot a three. I had a little hesitation, went around him ... and scooped the lay-up off the glass, and it fell."
Butler has taken on more offensive responsibility as the games have increased in importance. Although he averages 17.4 points, not once during the regular season did he have consecutive games of 20 points or more. But he's reached that number in four of the last five, including the conference semifinal win over Notre Dame and the title victory over the Hoyas.
"He's a very special guy," Huggins said.
And, one would think, the key to West Virginia's chances of advancing deep into his final NCAA Tournament.
FIRST ROUND: Tipoff: 12:15 p.m., Friday, HSBC Arena • TV: Ch.4 • Latest line:West Virginia (-17 1/2 ) Fast fact: The Mountaineers won their first Big East Tournament championship on Saturday, defeating Georgetown.