March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON - When the time came for Natalie Butler to make her college decision last year as a senior at nearby Lake Braddock, she had modest goals and expectations.
The 6-foot-5 center, who earned All-State honors after averaging a triple double in her final scholastic campaign, was just looking to find a spot in a successful program where she could grow as a player and be given a chance to compete and play as a freshman.
Months later after starting all 30 games for the Hoyas under Coach Jim Lewis, Butler has been able to achieve her goals and then some as the freshman set both school and conference records on her way to being one of the stars of the show as the BIG EAST recently handed out its regular season awards.
After picking up ten BIG EAST Rookie of the Week honors it came as no surprise that Butler would unanimously be named as Freshman of the Year after averaging 14.2 ppg while leading the conference in rebounding at 13.4 rpg.
Well, maybe it surprised Butler who became just the fourth Hoya to win the award and first since Sugar Rodgers in 2010.
"I really just wasn't expecting anything being a freshman coming in," Butler said despite leading all freshmen in the country in rebounding and posting a BIG EAST best 23 double-doubles.
"I just really wanted to work hard. I didn't expect any of this to happen. When I came, in all of my teammates were incredibly supportive and really just pushed me to be a better player."
Butler also earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors to go along with a spot on the All-Freshman Team.
Joining Butler on the Second Team All-BIG EAST squad was teammate Andrea White. Together they formed one of the best frontcourts in the conference and they likely have each other to thank for their recognitions earned earlier this week.
"Andrea's been coaching me and letting me know little things like a senior should," Butler said about her relationship with the captain.
"She's fantastic and we sort of push each other each game with rebounding. She definitely pushes me to work on post moves during practice."
White, who enjoyed her best season with the Blue & Gray by putting up a team high 15.8 ppg while hauling in 9.2 rpg, credits Butler for also helping her along the way.
"I think she's definitely pushed me a lot this season just with how hard she plays," White said about the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.
"Her hustle, her intensity - it just rubs off on me and I just want to have a friendly competition and do anything I can to help her get better."
Andrea went on even further.
"It's amazing playing with her. She really brings a lot to our team. She's a force down low. She opens up for other players. She's a great passer. So it's just great to play with her. I try to keep her aggressive. We had a little rebounding competition so that makes her want to rebound even more just to keep it fun and help her to get those records."
It's unclear if that friendly competition that started between two teammates at McDonough Arena was designed to result in such individual success stories, but it most certainly did. But even before the Hoyas frontcourt duo began to push each other to the limits, Butler realized early on that she had to make some changes to play in the BIG EAST.
"Coming into the summer I definitely realized that I was a lot slower than a lot of the girls on the team so I knew I needed to work on that," Butler explained.
"In my mind you can always be working, there's always something you can be doing. Our team worked very hard over the summer and that just helped benefit me for the conference play."
In a foreshadowing of things to come, Butler's hard work over the summer resulted in an impressive opening line of 13 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes of play in the Hoyas season opening win over Richmond back in November.
Similar stat lines would become a thing of the norm as the Hoyas came away as champions of the Great Alaska Shootout a few weeks later.
While being recognized for her gaudy rebounding numbers, Butler is pretty honest in her assessment of what it takes to become a great rebounder. For her it's all about effort and mentally staying engaged at all times. But even for her, that's not always easy.
"Rebounding is definitely about effort, it comes down to heart when it's all said and done. I've had challenging games. There's been games where I haven't done my best and Coach [Lewis] has pulled me aside and said hey we need you to rebound. He's been an inspiration to me."
So with the season winding down and the Hoyas having one last chance to make their mark on the postseason, Butler feels good about her team's chances to make a late run in Chicago at the BIG EAST Championships.
"In order to knock the tournament out - I think we have the potential to do that - it's just a matter of keeping our heads because we've been working incredibly hard."
"What we can do for them is play our hardest like they are and hopefully come out with a BIG EAST Championship when it's all said and done."
And as for those awards and achievement that Butler has piled up throughout the season, while she's very proud she views them a bit differently that others might. They are her awards but they are team awards all the same.
"Any reward that you get, there's definitely somebody else behind you that has helped push you to get that reward and in this case it's the entire Georgetown team," Butler said.
"I'm very grateful to be on this team and to be with these wonderful girls. I'm very happy in what I've done this season but I know that it wouldn't be possible without my coach Jim Lewis. He's given me an incredible opportunity to play."
For the freshman that just wanted to play, Butler gets another chance to extend the season for herself and the Hoyas this weekend. And that's all she ever wanted.