On Thursday night as the NBA draft was underway, there were two very different scenes playing out.
At Zions Bank Basketball Campus, the Utah Jazz front office and staff were continuously gathering intel and traded down from the 30th pick — the final one of the first round — to the second round, 40th overall, and were waiting with bated breath as it came time for them to make a selection.
The player they wanted, Baylor guard Jared Butler, was still available once the Jazz were on the clock despite being valued as a much higher selection. When they took Butler with that 40th pick, the front office celebrations could be heard throughout the building.
Across the country at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Butler and his family went into draft night feeling confident and enjoying the glamour and whirlwind of the experience. But, once players started getting picked and the numbers kept rolling by, that confidence turned into doubt.
Butler spent much of the pre-draft process waiting for clearance from the NBA’s fitness-to-play panel of physicians because of a heart condition that he was diagnosed with coming out of high school. Though he was fully cleared to play by the panel on July 17, lingering concerns seemed to be the reason his draft stock took a hit.
From Butler’s perspective, he was healthy and had been cleared to play not only in each of his three years at Baylor, but also by the NBA. He’d led the Bears to a national championship and was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It was a rough night for me,” Butler said. “It was something out of my control. I can’t change who I am physically.”
Originally projected as a mid-first round pick, Butler and his family watched the first round of the draft come and go, and each pick of the second round added to their doubts and fears.
“It’s so stressful but it sounds so easy and sounds so simple to sit and wait for your name to be called,” Butler’s father Richard said. “But it absorbs a lot of your mental fortitude to be patient and wait.”
Finally, after a roller coaster of emotions for Butler and his family, the Jazz came calling, and a great sense of relief spread over everyone as tears of joy were shed.
“When the Jazz called I was just extremely thankful,” Butler said. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Butler was introduced to local media on Saturday afternoon and was accompanied by his father Richard, his mother Juanea and his older sister Amayia, who all beamed with pride when Butler sat at the podium and said he was excited to get to work as the newest member of the Jazz.
Butler is hoping to quickly shake off any of the doubts anyone might have had about him. He’s looking forward to the idea of working closely with so many decorated and veteran NBA players and absorbing everything they have to teach him.
“It’s like a gold mine for me,” Butler said. “I’m humble enough to realize my role, but I think at the same time I can make huge contributions to winning. That’s what I’m all about.”
Butler has already set lofty goals for himself.
“On the court, I don’t want to be a liability. I don’t want you to know that I’m a rookie,” he said. “I want you to think as if I’ve been playing in the league for six or seven years...off the court, adding to the culture and not making a negative impact, being a positive impact to the culture of the team and what the organization is about.”
The Jazz and Butler still haven’t decided whether or not the rookie will be playing summer league ball, though Butler made a point to say that he was healthy and ready to go whenever need be.
As for his family, they couldn’t be more proud, and more thankful that draft night is behind them.
“I’m glad that’s over with. I don’t want to ever do that again. I don’t recommend that for anybody,” Richard said with a laugh. “But I’m proud, as always, and I know he’s ready to get in and start his career as a professional basketball player.”