Thursday, June 30, 2011

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

While looking at the not-so-recent history on my laptop, I came across a sports website that seemed vaguely familiar. After reading for a few minutes, I realized that it was a blog. It took a few more minutes of reading for it to occur to me that it was my blog.

Obviously, readers, this didn't actually happen. However, it has been a while since I've written and I apologize for that. Life, in the form of 13 final exams, got in the way. But now that they are done, I have plenty of time to catch you up to everything that has been happening in the sports world during the last few weeks while I've been otherwise engaged, studying macromolecules and Serbia's role in World War I and Mozart's Symphony No. 41.

With this in mind, I recently turned to channel 206 and sat back to watch a long game The next day, I did the same thing with the same result. The third day, hockey was on. Then baseball. I'm not a baseball fan. I enjoy my brother's games and the highlights, but I simply don't have the patience to watch a game and write about it. And since Vancouver did not win the Stanley Cup, any feel-good story I had about them was made irrelevant. I tried to write an argument against the Big Ten's proposal to pay student athletes, but it became extremely complicated and overdone. If you don't know what I'm talking about or are remotely interested, my main arguments can be seen in a simpler way in this blog.

So I resigned myself to stop searching for a story and wait for one to come to me. And it did as I watched the NBA draft. No, it's not about my belief that Jimmer Fredette will ultimately prove unsuccessful with the Kings. It's not about David Lighty's being the #1 most talented player not to be drafter or what his career hopes are from here. It's not about which Morris twin is better. The story that caught my eye was that of Jimmy Butler, former Marquette small forward and the newest addition to the Chicago Bulls roster.

Jimmy Butler's story started when he was 13 years old and on the streets of Tomball, Texas, after his mother kicked him out with no explanation. With no money, no home, and no other relatives to turn to, Jimmy struggled to survive. Throughout high school, he bounced from one friends house to another to find a place to sleep each night. The one constant factor in his life was the basketball he bounced with him. This continued until the summer before his senior year when a scout pulled him aside.

It wasn't a college scout, though. It was a freshman named Jordan Leslie, who'd been watching him play, a sports star to Tomball as well. Jordan challenged Jimmy to a 3-point contest and the two quickly became friends. Gradually, Jordan's house became one of the houses that Jimmy frequently spent the night. Jordan and his siblings welcomed him. At first, Michelle Lambert, Jordan's mother, was fine with the situation. However, when the family that Jimmy usually stayed with needed their bed back, Jimmy stayed with the Leslie family more and more often. With four kids from her first husband combined with the three kids her new husband brought with her, money was tight and there were rumors about Jimmy. When he began staying on school nights, Jordan's parents told him Jimmy could stay 'no more than two nights in a row'. On the third night, one of Jordan's siblings claimed it was their night for Jimmy to stay. 

After a few months, Michelle told Jimmy he could stay for good. There were a few conditions, like improving his academic performance, staying out of trouble, meeting a curfew, and being a good role model for the other children. However, she also told him, "This is not a conditional love. This is forever. We will argue, and I might not agree with you, but there is nothing in this world that you could do that I’m turning my back on you." For Jimmy, who'd spent years with no where to go, it meant he'd found a family.

Soon after, Jimmy became the star of the Tomball basketball team, averaging 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. Despite making the all-district first team, he played on no AAU team and no colleges recruited him so Jimmy spent his freshman year at Tyler Junior College. In his first game, he scored 34 points. He led the team for the rest of the year and, by April 2008, had several offers from colleges across the nation, including Clemson, Kentucky, Butler, and Iowa State. Michelle Lambert pushed him to make academics a priority as well and so he transferred to Marquette University.

The first season at Marquette was tough. Jimmy went from being the star to riding the bench. He called Michelle Lambert multiple times, frustrated and ready to come home. She told him to deal with it. To be fair, his coach, Buzz Williams, was tough on him. He said, "I've never been harder on a player than I've been on Jimmy. I was ruthless on him because he didn't know how good he could be." During his time at Marquette, Coach Williams put Jimmy in a new role. Sure, he improved his scoring average from 5.6 ppg his first season at Marquette to 15.7 ppg in his senior season, but that came naturally from being a good basketball player. He shed his 'scorer' label and became the 'glue' guy - the team leader. His versatility is what first got him noticed by NBA scouts and what ultimately led the Bulls to select him with their first round draft pick. 

If you've seen The Blind Side or read the book (which I recommend), this story might sound somewhat familiar. However, I think it goes to show that it's not an uncommon event. It also shows that there are more than one generous family out there. One last note: The last thing that Butler's mother said to him was, "I don't like the look of you. You gotta go." How much is she regretting that right now?

This entry is named after #11 on the runner-up NBA champions team, the Miami Heat. The 2010-2011 season was his first with the Heat; prior to that, he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers since 1997. He was the 20th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. He's from Lithuania and in 2009 he and his wife adopted twin boys from there. He's an avid reader, especially about military topics, and often reads in the locker room before games. His average points per game (5.0 ppg) was an all time low this season, which might be because he attempted exactly 0 three point shots. I chose Ilgauskas for two reasons: Firstly, to give myself an excuse to mention that LeBron James (and the rest of the Miami Heat) lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals. Mostly, though, I picked him because he has an awesome name.

I'll be back.
The Sports Nerd