For his first two seasons of college basketball, Brenton Butler was a part of a Fordham program on the rise.
The ascension has stopped with a thud.
Recent player defections and the firing of coach Dereck Whittenburg in early December have turned the once-promising men's team into a mess. Interim coach Jared Grasso hasn't been able to stop the skid as the team is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, falling to 2-13 overall and 0-3 in the loaded Atlantic 10.
Butler, a Norcross grad, is one of only three contributing upperclassmen for the young Rams.
"The first two years (at Fordham) we were winning games," said Butler, who played on powerhouse teams at Norcross, winning the state title in 2006 as a senior. "As of late, it's been tough. The last half of the season is a new season. We're trying to make the Atlantic 10 season a new season and make the first half of the season a memory."
Though the Rams haven't broken through yet, Butler has done his part. A steady scorer his first three seasons he averaged 9.6 points in an injury-shortened junior season, 11.0 points as a sophomore and 9.5 as a freshman he is being relied on for more offense than ever.
He's delivered lately, but the scoring boost hasn't changed Fordham's luck.
"They've been going in for me," said Butler, who graduates in May with a finance degree and a minor in economics, but plans to try pro basketball first. "I'm just staying aggressive and staying positive. I'm trying to stay consistent. (The scoring) doesn't mean anything if we're not winning. Right now I'm focusing on doing more, not just points, but more rebounds, more steals, more assists."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard, son of former NFL player Bobby Butler and brother of USC wideout Brice, scored 25 points in a Dec. 29 return to Atlanta to play Kennesaw State. Unfortunately, the team results were familiar, a 79-66 loss.
It was a similar refrain in the A-10 opener Butler scored a career-high 31 but Fordham lost to Massachusetts 78-76.
He's averaged 22 points over the past five games, upping his season average to 16 per game. He also averages 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
But what Butler and his teammates crave more than anything right now is a victory.
"The coaching change midway through the fall semester, that was new for all of us, so we've been adjusting to a new system, a new way of everything in practices and games," Butler said. "It's been a change, but it's been a good change. Everybody's going hard and buying into this.
"We can get this thing turned around. There are just a couple of things we need to change. We're about as young as you can get, so it's been a struggle. But it's been fun, too. Young guys can bring a lot of energy and excitement, too."
Hagans gets SSAC award
Brenau guard Ashley Hagans, a Shiloh grad, was named the Southern States Athletic Conference player of the week on Monday.
The senior averaged 24 points the previous week, making 10 of 18 shots from 3-point range, as the Golden Tigers went 3-0. She also averaged 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.9 steals.
Hagans was an honorable mention NAIA All-American as a junior, averaging 21.2 points. She averages 19 points and 5.8 rebounds this season.
Chatman shines at Piedmont
South Gwinnett grad Mike Chatman has become a key player as a sophomore for Piedmont College. The guard is averaging 10.6 points and making 51 percent of his shots, helping his team to an 8-5 record.
Berkmar grad Wesley Witherspoon had a team-high 22 points Wednesday night as Memphis rolled past East Carolina 77-57. ... Collins Hill grad Shantell Black had 14 points and five assists last Sunday as Ole Miss defeated Arkansas 86-71. ... Emily Clarke had 20 points and five rebounds, but the South Gwinnett grad couldn't rescue Western Carolina in a 59-54 loss to Elon last weekend. ... Norcross' Al-Farouq Aminu had 24 points, 13 rebounds and a huge defensive stop on Maryland's last-gasp inbounds play Tuesday night as Wake Forest beat Maryland 85-83. ... Buford grad Blanche Alverson had 12 points Thursday night in Auburn's 74-62 win over rival Alabama. ... Shiloh grad April Parker got into early foul trouble and had just two points in Clemson's 72-58 loss at Georgia Tech on Monday. The 6-foot-2 senior, who made her 11th start of the season against the Yellow Jackets, is averaging 4.2 points and 3.2 rebounds. ... Freshman Mykala Walker of Duluth had four points and three rebounds in Wake Forest's 72-66 loss at Georgia Tech on Thursday. She came in averaging 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11 minutes per game.
Young gets weekly honor
Collins Hill grad Mary Kate Young was named University of Wisconsin-Whitewater gymnast of the week on Wednesday for her performance in a quad meet at California-Davis.
The freshman all-around gymnast had a 9.45 on floor exercise to tie for 11th place. She also scored 8.85 on beam and 9.05 on bars.
Young was the Gwinnett County diver of the year as a senior and placed fourth at the Class AAAAA state diving meet last year.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax to 770-339-8081.