Four years ago Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler led the Marquette Golden Eagles to their first Sweet 16 since the Dwyane Wade era. And while the team accomplishments were important, internally they both had the goal of one day playing professional basketball and to play it well. And as Saturday night proved, both have accomplished what they set out to do.
Saturday night at the United Center, Crowder scored nine points and two rebounds in the Mavericks’ 105-83 win over the Bulls. His former collegiate teammate Butler added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists in defeat.
But win or lose, the duo always will be each other’s biggest fan because of the similar journeys they traveled to get to where they are and because of the players they became at Marquette.
[RELATED: Mavs rout the Bulls at the United Center]
“Our goal was to play professional basketball, any way possible,” Crowder told CSNChicago.com.”That’s what we wanted to do and we put in the work at Marquette and we made it to where we want it to be.”
Both recruited by current Marquette head coach Buzz Williams as junior-college transfers, Butler (2008 recruit) and Crowder (2010 recruit) arrived in Milwaukee without the knowledge of what the future held, what position they would play in Williams’ untraditional rotation and what kind of successes they would have.
Both built to be traditional small forwards, both played primarily power forward for the Golden Eagles. In Crowder’s case, he even saw time at center – all 6-foot-6 of him – alongside Butler as a junior.
And Saturday night, that versatility shone through. In the first quarter alone Butler was matched up on shooting guard Monta Ellis, forward Shawn Marion and 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki, the last of which he boxed out on a miss shot to draw a foul.
Crowder was everywhere, too. He guarded Tony Snell, Butler and was even substituted in with 9 seconds left in the half to guard point guard Kirk Hinrich.
And Crowder said it’s that defensive versatility that was instilled in him at Marquette that has made him so successful in his second season in Dallas.
It helps us out. It makes our worth that much higher,” he said. “And at this level you have to be able to play, and we just so happen to have a gift where we can guard different positions. And we had Marquette expose that.”
[MORE: Rose has started rehab process]
Crowder said he watches Butler whenever possible, noting how well Butler played on Christmas in a win over Brooklyn. Still, the competitive juices started flowing for the Dallas wing as soon as the ball was tipped.
“It’s great to see him succeed and do what he wants to do. It was all fun and games before the game, but when we match up we’re on different teams,” he said with a smile. “But it was great to see him. It’s a blessing for both of us.”
Butler made all six of his free throw attempts in the loss, and Crowder said that’s the one area he remembers Butler succeeding so well at Marquette that he’s tried to instill into his own game – Crowder went 3 of 3 from the line.
“I just like how he stays in attack mode, trying to get to the free throw line. That’s something he’s always been able to do. So I just try to bring that to my game.”
Butler was just as complimentary in speaking about Crowder, noting how the Villa Rica, Ga., native has taken the long route – just like him – to fulfill his dreams, and that he was happy to say he was an important part of Crowder’s path.
“He’s worked hard to get where he is and I’m proud of the kid,” Butler told CSNChicago.com. “Everyone has a different journey to get here. He definitely had a difficult one but he’s here and he’s making the most of it.”
That Marquette versatility – Buzz Williams calls those players “switchables” – and gritty demeanor has turned Crowder and Butler into the types of players every championship teams needs.
Added Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle of Crowder: “He’s gotten better and better. He’s a very versatile defensive player. We’ve put him on point guards, we’ve put him on power forwards and all the others in between. He plays with a lot of energy and he’s just one of those high-activity, high-energy guys that anybody would want to have on their team.”
Butler and Crowder will surely match up again, continuing to create chapters in their storybook careers that they hoped would be a possibility when they dreamed about it in Milwaukee nearly half a decade ago.
And they’ll do so knowing that the other one was an important piece to the puzzle that made the NBA dream possible. And while they still respect each other as good friends and former teammates, Butler is already looking forward to the next time Dallas comes up on the schedule for another reason.
“That’s my guy,” Butler said smiling. “But I can’t wait to get him back in Dallas.”