FORT WAYNE – Conner Henry was an assistant coach the last two seasons with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, and too much of that time was spent fretting about how to contain Brian Butch.
As an all-star center for the rival Bakersfield Jam, Butch was one of those big men who created too many problems. He’d grab a lot of rebounds, dish beautiful passes and, worst of all, nail long-range shots.
We played Bakersfield way too many times, and I’ve seen him pick and pop and really get it going, Henry said.
But for Henry, the first-year head coach of the Mad Ants, Butch suddenly presented a solution to a seasonlong problem – the lack of a dynamic big man for a team that seemed otherwise stocked.
So on Feb. 2, the Mad Ants traded a second-round pick in this year’s D-League draft and the rights to Anthony Richardson to the Jam for Butch, 29, who has played six games for Fort Wayne.
My job is to bring the intensity on the defensive end and then be a stretch big, Butch said. I’ll knock down some open shots and be a presence. Defensively, I need to rebound the basketball. They’ve got a lot of talent on this team already, with a lot of scorers, and I just add to it.
Butch, 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, played college ball at Wisconsin from 2004 to 2008.
He was the D-League All-Star Game MVP in 2010, and he played four seasons with the Jam. He has spent time with the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets and Utah Jazz, but he hasn’t played in an NBA game.
He has also played in China, Germany, Greece and Puerto Rico.
With the Mad Ants (20-13), who play host tonight to Sioux Falls (19-13), he has averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Butch has averaged 14.1 points and 10.4 rebounds over 135 D-League games – starting 126 of them – and he’s a 34.8 percent shooter from beyond the 3-point arc.
This season, he’s 21 of 51 from 3-point range.
Brian’s doing a good job, Henry said. He’s starting to know more of the offensive script and know exactly what we want from him. He’s a very good passer and a shooter.
The Mad Ants have won 14 of 20 games and had pulled into a tie with Canton atop the division heading into Friday night.
In the last two games – an 89-83 victory over Sioux Falls and a 117-108 win at Springfield – Butch has totaled 22 points and 11 rebounds.
It has taken him some time to adjust to his teammates – it hasn’t helped that the Mad Ants lost Peyton Siva, Tony Mitchell and Orlando Johnson to the NBA last week – and to the different style of play in the East Division.
Out West, they get up and down, he said. Those scores are 140-120. It’s a little bit more physical and defensive minded in the East. But that’s good. It’s the way the game is played. To have success (here), the basketball is the same, but it’s a little bit more focused.
Notes: Tonight, the Mad Ants will wear special jerseys to raise awareness for the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization. Some jerseys will be silently auctioned to benefit the organization.