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Zach Butler poses for a portrait after practice on October 12, 2017 (Jimmy Watkins | For The Post)

Men's Basketball: Zach Butler finding his comfort zone

Zach Butler didn’t get what he signed up for. 

He was supposed to learn under the tutelage of an all-conference point guard for a year, then apply those lessons as he ran the team after Jaaron Simmons finished his career at Ohio. 

But that last part didn’t go as planned. Simmons transferred to Michigan, and the Bobcats suddenly needed another point guard.

Placed in a bind, coach Saul Phillips capitalized on an opportunity caused by a coaching change at Drake to bring in another freshman point guard, Teyvion Kirk. 

Butler didn’t expect to have another point guard in his recruiting class. He didn’t expect to have competition for the eventual starting point guard role he was recruited to fill. 

Not only does he have competition, he’s living with his competition. 

"At first it was like, 'Man, we’re fighting for the same spot,' " Butler said. “But now I feel like I’m producing and he’s producing. If we keep doing that, we’re both gonna play.” 

Phillips arranged for Butler and Kirk to live together. They knew they would be competing against each other every day. The circumstances weren’t ideal for either player. 

Butler and Kirk get along great now, but theirs is a relationship that Phillips continues to monitor. 

“If not placed right on top of each other, they may drift apart or form a rivalry,” Phillips said. “It’s gonna be very important for them to remember during the course of the season that they’re on the same team.”

To add to Butler’s discomfort, he was nursing multiple minor injuries in the offseason. And in his high school days, minor injuries had a different connotation.

He suffered a knee injury during a high school game, and his coaches didn’t want him to leave the game to get it checked. Instead, the training staff gave him a cortisone shot and Butler returned. 

At first, the trainers told him the knee was sprained. It turned out to be a torn meniscus and a slightly torn MCL. 

When he suffered actual minor injuries in the offseason, he was slow to trust the Ohio training staff. 

“It wasn’t nothing personal,” Butler said. “I was just trying to take care of myself and look out for my best interests.” 

Phillips could tell something was off with Butler. He watched Butler carry Dorman High School to the 2017 South Carolina Class 5A state championship with a broken nose and no protective mask. Phillips couldn’t tell Butler’s nose was broken by the way he played.

In offseason workouts, however, the aggression Phillips was excited about was missing.

“He came in a little more tentative,” Phillips said. “But that’s starting to disappear.”

Butler learned to play through the nicks and bruises. And now he’s back to feeling comfortable on the floor. 

The corners he couldn’t turn because of various tweaks, he turns now. He cuts hard, and he does so without the worry of aggravating an injury. 

For the first time since his arrival in Athens, Butler feels comfortable. 

“I’m adjusted now,” Butler said. “Being able to burst and go by people when I want. My body’s just feeling good.”


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