Hard work pays off for small rookie who plays big

SOECharlesHallmansquareHeather Butler virtually hit the longest shot of her basketball career when, as an undrafted rookie, she made this season’s San Antonio Stars roster. It isn’t often that a player who was bypassed in the college draft later beats out, in Butler’s case, two drafted players.

It was a long shot indeed for the 5’-5” first-year guard from Tennessee-Martin. Butler helped her UT Martin squad win four consecutive Ohio Valley Conference tournaments and four NCAA post-season tourneys in as many tries during her college career. She now becomes the first from her college to make the WNBA.

During a brief MSR post-game interview after a June 1 Minnesota-San Antonio contest, the rookie said, “You can see I’m small. I’ve had a lot of people that doubt me ever since I started [playing basketball]. I accepted the mentality of it’s not how big you are but how big you play.”

“This was always my dream” to play pro ball, she continued. “Coming into training camp, I said to myself, ‘I got to come in here and make a statement. I have to work my tail off.’ Day by day I worked hard.”

This same work ethic that Butler displayed in college she believes helped prepare her for her post-college gig. “I worked not just in practice, but I worked outside of practice,” she disclosed. “I feel where you can get better is on your own, by myself… I had amazing coaches to help me do that. [They] gave me drills, especially shooting — shooting was all I did. I think that helped me.”

San Antonio Coach-General Manager Dan Hughes saw Butler’s “statement” during camp and later put a historic exclamation mark on it by penciling her name on his regular season roster sheet that he submitted to the league office.

Heather Butler Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Heather Butler
Photo by Sophia Hantzes

“First of all, she impacted us in training camp with just her general work ethic,” observed Hughes. “We were looking for someone to make [fourth-year guard] Danielle Robinson better in practice. Not only did she do that, but when we went into the preseason, we just liked what we saw. She makes our team better.”

Ironically, Robinson, a 2013 All Star, also went undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2011 and later made the league’s all-rookie team. She was named a season later to the Silver Stars All-Decade Team.

It wasn’t until the team was packing for San Antonio’s season opener in Atlanta, however, that Butler learned her bags would also be on the same plane. “It was an unreal feeling,” recalled Butler, adding that the first call she made was to her mother: “She was so excited,” said the daughter.

“It’s still sinking in,” exclaimed Butler on her “a-ha” moments. “Oh my God, I [once] was here watching a [WNBA] game, and now I’m on the court. This is a huge blessing, and I am just honored, honored, honored. I couldn’t have been on a better team.”

“She’s an incredibly conscientious, hard-working [player] who’s got good skill level,” said Hughes.

Butler believes her effort and knowing how to dish off are two of her best attributes she brings to the Stars. “She’s a special young lady, and we are anxious to see where it will go,” noted her coach.

“Whatever role they need me to do, I am going to do it because I’m blessed to be on this team right now,” concluded Butler.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.