Jimmy Butler as a Centenary Gent? Oh, what could have been

It’s NBA Playoff time and once again, Jimmy Butler is tearing up the league. It seems to happen every spring and this year is no different. And it’s not like he’s on a great team surrounded by talent – there have been times when Butler is on the floor with four Miami Heat teammates who were all undrafted.

You might remember that Butler is from Texas and played college basketball at Marquette, so what does that have to do with Shreveport?

Well, legend has it that Jimmy Butler, six-time NBA All-Star, could have easily been a Centenary Gent.

There was a Sports Illustrated article in 2017 in which it was written in the second paragraph that Butler only “received a single scholarship offer out of high school from Centenary.”

But if you want to find out if the legend is true, you need to go to the source. And you’ll have to go a long way. All the way to northern Michigan.

That’s where you will find Rob Flaska these days, where he is currently in private business as well as head coach of the boys’ basketball team at Glen Lake High School. (Go Lakers!)

But from 2005-08, Flaska was head coach at Centenary. And there was a 6-foot-6 kid coming out of high school in Tomball, Texas, in 2007 averaging 19.9 points and 8.7 rebounds who Flaska thought might look nice in maroon and white.

“I was always looking for players,” says Flaska. “He was listed on the (recruiting) board as a ‘1’ (mid-major prospect). So I called him up and offered him a scholarship. But I didn’t get too far with him.”

In 2007, Steve Roccoforte, who was once an assistant coach at Centenary, was the head coach at Lamar in Beaumont, about 100 miles from Tomball, Butler’s hometown. “I didn’t know anything about him,” says Roccaforte, now an assistant at Texas A&M.

These days, everyone in basketball had heard of Butler. He’s been the best player in the NBA playoffs this year, averaging 35.5 points per game and had a 56-point game against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

Flaska was the one who did the recruiting of Butler, not one of his assistant coaches. After walking into a tough situation – Centenary won only three games in the year before Flaska arrived – he knew he had to find players.

“When I first got the job, I don’t remember there being very many guys available,” he says. “After that, I started really recruiting in the Houston area and signed some kids from there.”

Says Flaska about the prospect of landing Butler at Centenary: “It would have changed a lot of things for us.”

No kidding. There probably would be a special Jimmy Butler burger on the menu at the Kings Highway Strawn’s by now.

“We definitely tried and would have taken him in a New York minute,” Flaska says. “I didn’t know he was going to be this good, but we knew he could be good for Centenary.”

In what turned out to be Flaska’s last year at Centenary, the Gents were 10-21 overall but got off to a great start with wins over SMU and Texas Tech. However, they lost 17 of the last 19. Adding a future NBA All-State to the mix – even as a freshman – would have certainly changed things.

“Obviously a guy like him is who you need to make your program,” Flaska says. “But you see it happen at small schools all the time. We got lucky on a couple of guys we brought in, but that one right there …”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence.

Though he tried, Flaska knew it was an uphill battle to get Butler.  “He pretty much had it in his mind he was going to Tyler Junior College,” he says. “We tried to get him up for a visit, but the coach over there got him to come for one year and then he got a scholarship for Marquette.”

Three years later, Butler was a first-round draft pick.

“I tell people all the time ‘I tried to get that guy!’” Flaska says. “We were so close back then to really turning the corner. We just needed a few more guys.”

Or one guy named Jimmy Butler.

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com