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Norcross grad Butler playing prominent role for Fordham

Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK - When Brenton Butler committed to Fordham University, most of his friends didn't even know where it was.

Once they found out, the reaction wasn't all that positive.

"When they heard New York City and the Bronx, it was like, 'Oh. Oh. Watch out,'" Butler said.

The freshman guard from Norcross High School is a long way from Peachtree Corners in more than just miles. But he's already taken his own bite out of the Big Apple.

"He's an absolute steal for us," Fordham men's basketball coach Dereck Whittenburg said.

With Butler playing a prominent role, the Rams are the surprise team of the Atlantic 10 Conference. They have won three straight and are 4-2 in the league and 11-7 overall going into Saturday's game at LaSalle.

"I think some people know about Fordham now," Butler said after scoring 11 points in a victory over St. Louis last Saturday at the Rams' ancient Rose Hill Gym.

In his fourth season, Whittenburg has rebuilt the Fordham program, which had fallen on hard times like much of the Bronx itself.

"But it's not as bad as people think," Butler said of the much-maligned borough.

The walled, tree-lined Fordham campus, which covers 85 acres near the Bronx Zoo, is certainly a far cry from the urban blight of the South Bronx not that far way.

"I've never had second thoughts about coming here," said Butler, the oldest son of former Atlanta Falcons standout Bobby Butler. "It's absolutely the right place for me. I haven't felt homesick at all."

He's been too busy, on and off the court.

A finance major, Butler had a 3.3 grade point average for the fall semester and his numbers on the basketball court aren't too bad, either.

Butler is averaging 9.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc, and has 10 assists to just one turnover in the past three games.

Overshadowed by Kentucky signee Jodie Meeks and Georgia Tech recruit Gani Lawal last season on the Class AAAAA state championship team at Norcross, Butler quickly showed he could be a big-time player, too. He had 20 points against Tennessee in his second college game.

"My job at Norcross was to get the ball to Jodie and Gani," Butler said. "Here, Coach Whit says he'll get mad if I don't shoot."

"If he had been from one of the top programs up here, he wouldn't even have talked to Fordham," said Whittenburg, who helped lead North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship. "He'd be in the Big East."

Butler, though, wasn't recruited by the nearby SEC or ACC. That's when Atlanta Celtics founder Wallace Prather stepped in and Fordham got lucky.

Whittenburg had established a connection to the AAU program while an assistant at Georgia Tech. Prather recommended Butler and Whittenburg didn't hesitate, offering a scholarship the summer before Butler's senior year.

Prather died of a heart attack shortly afterward, but Fordham had an unlikely recruit.

"We got fortunate," Whittenberg said. "Brenton Butler is quality in every way. He's an excellent student, a great kid and really heady ballplayer.

"I kid Paul (Hewitt). I tell him if I was coach at Georgia Tech, Brenton would be a Yellow Jacket."

Butler, though, is happy nearly 1,000 miles from home.

The NBA isn't his goal. A successful business career is.

"If you want to go into finance, what better place to be than New York City?" Butler said. "It's exciting being here. There are so many things going on and New York City is so culturally diverse. It couldn't have worked out better."

Butler's father and grandfather were at Rose Hill Gym when the 6-foot-2 freshman scored 18 points last week in an overtime victory over St. Joseph's. The trip was the first time Richard Butler had seen snow.

"We just had a little bit, though," his grandson said. "I hope we have a lot more this winter. But my teammates say that I'll be sorry I said that."

Right now, everything is new and different for a Georgian experiencing life in New York City and enjoying every moment of it.