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Bearcats' Butler expands offensive game to lead girls

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Hanging on the wall just outside the gym at Brookhaven High School is a picture of Bruce Howard, along with a story detailing the impact he had on the numerous basketball players he coached from 1992-2003.

An example of how his legacy has spanned generations is junior Nazarae Butler of the Bearcats girls program.

Butler's father, DeShannon Butler, played for Howard before graduating in 1996. He later had a stint playing football for Ohio State before graduating from the University of Findlay.

Nazarae hears stories "all the time" from her father about Howard, who died of liver failure in 2003 at age 43.

"(Howard) was like a father figure to him," Nazarae said. "(My father) didn't have it too well growing up, so his coach basically got him off the streets and pretty much changed his life. Basketball was his outlet."

With DeShannon as a key player as a senior, the Bearcats boys team won its first City League championship under Howard.

His daughter's hopes of making it to the City final this season took a hit when Brookhaven lost a pair of league games in early December, but Butler has made headlines with her offense.

The Bearcats were 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the City-North Division before playing Columbus East on Jan. 14.

Through 10 games, Butler was among central Ohio's leading scorers with a 26.1 average that included 48 points in an 83-34 win over Columbus International on Dec. 20.

A 5-foot-10 guard, Butler was honorable mention all-league a year ago when Brookhaven went 18-5 and lost in a Division II district semifinal.

Sophomore Ashley Johnson was not with the Bearcats for their first seven games this season after she made first-team all-league and third-team all-district last year, and Butler emerged as their go-to player in her absence.

Johnson scored 14 points in her first game back, a 58-41 loss to Worthington Kilbourne on Dec. 27, and 14 in a 57-41 win over Independence on Dec. 30 to complement Butler, who scored 22 and 26 points in those games, respectively.

Butler led with 16 points in a 39-37 win Jan. 8 at Whetstone to close the first round of league play.

"She can shoot from the inside and the outside," coach Darris Gattis said. "She reminds me a lot of (2011 Brookhaven graduate and current Indiana State player) Travecia Franklin. She's got the size and speed to take it to the cup. She had a lot of responsibility as a freshman and now she's a junior and she's grown. She can check a guard. She does everything in the framework of the offense."

The court isn't the only place where Butler has been succeeding. She has a 3.8 GPA.

"(My family) definitely puts school first," Butler said. "I like math because it's a challenge. In math I've got to focus, which reminds me of how I've got to focus when I'm shooting free throws."

"Her dad and mother are very strict on her education," Gattis said. "Her father, DeShannon Butler, is a firm believer in the tradition of Brookhaven. She's got expectations and I'm sure her parents do, too. I knew she was going to do this."

While Butler's aspirations in the classroom include continuing to be ranked among the top five in the junior class, her biggest focus in the team's locker room during the season's first few weeks was being an anchor.

In addition to Brookhaven not having Johnson for most of December, seniors Courtland Crego and Fredtasia Luttery were not eligible at the beginning of the season after being key players a year ago.

Freshman guard Sha'Toya Johnson, who is Ashley's sister, senior guard Martesha Jenkins and junior forward Lorraine Danglade have emerged as contributors in Gattis' four-guard lineup, which he said is "just constantly on attack."

Butler saw action off the bench as a freshman and averaged 10 points and six assists last season.

She's thrived since being thrust into more of a scoring role this winter.

"I think I've been getting my team more involved, and I've gotten a lot better from the free-throw line," Butler said. "We're really young, so I've just been trying to lead by example. If I do well I feel like it'll rub off on them. ... Each game we're getting better and learning."

Northland boys grow from trip

After winning four of its first five games, the Northland boys basketball team went 3-1 during the Beach Ball Classic that began Dec. 26, with its loss coming to Jacksonville (Fla.) Providence 69-43 in the championship game Dec. 31 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Providence's Grayson Allen, who signed with Duke in November, scored 26 points while teammate Christian Terrell, who has signed with Florida Gulf Coast, added 16.

"It was a great experience," coach Sean Taylor said. "There were really good teams down there and we got an understanding of how we can get better. We played really well in the first half (against Providence), but we turned it over a little bit and didn't play well or as tough in the second half.

"(We learned that) if we rebound the ball, we can play with anybody in the country. Our defense was really good, and if we rebound the ball, we're pretty tough to beat."

The Vikings are 9-2 overall and 6-0 in the City-North. They play Friday, Jan. 17, at Linden-McKinley and play host to Centennial on Tuesday, Jan. 21, in league games.

Senior guard Shemar Waugh made the all-tournament team in Myrtle Beach. According to Taylor, junior post player Doug Taylor and sophomore forward Seth Towns also were standouts.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, Northland will face Roselle (N.J.) Catholic in the Flyin' to the Hoop event at Kettering Fairmont.

Roselle Catholic is 10th in the MaxPreps Top 25 national rankings and led by 6-9 junior Chris Silva, who averages 10.3 points and 10.3 rebounds, and sophomore guard Asanta Gist, who averages 11.8 points and four assists.

"They've got a pretty good big guy and they've got a few wing players that are pretty good," coach Taylor said.

Beechcroft boys beat East to snap skid

After losing by double digits in each game of a three-game losing streak, the Beechcroft boys basketball team broke through with a 50-42 win over East on Jan. 8 and a 72-49 win over Whetstone on Jan. 10.

The Cougars were 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the City-North before playing Mifflin on Jan. 14. They continue league play with games Friday, Jan. 17, at Centennial and Tuesday, Jan. 21, against visiting Linden.

"I think we've just got to stay consistent and make teams play our basketball," coach Humphrey Simmons said. "We can't allow any breakdowns."

Against East, the Cougars outscored the Tigers 19-10 in the second quarter. Junior forward Joshua Chellers scored a game-high 17 points and junior forward Anthony McClendon added nine.

Through nine games, McClendon was averaging a team-best 10.2 points. Chellers was averaging 9.5 and junior forward Donte Burt was averaging seven.

"(We want to be) pushing the ball up the sidelines, getting quick scores, getting back on defense and playing helpside when we can," Simmons said.

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