The world turned upside down. In a matter of hours, the Bears went from scouting their next opponent while in Kansas City, Mo., to heading home with no season to finish.
Due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the NCAA canceled the March Madness tournament, leaving many college basketball players frustrated and heartbroken.
It also left Baylor sophomore guard Jared Butler with a decision to make.
Butler came into the season not necessarily touted as one of the best players in the country, and Baylor wasn’t supposed to be a top-tier school. Three Man Weave slotted the guard as “potentially All-Conference” and the Bears barely broke into the Associated Press Top 25 to start the year.
But after a magical and unexpected regular season, Butler finished as an All-American and Baylor was No. 4 and a likely No. 1 seed in the tournament before the season came to a close. Butler said not having a chance to reach his goals of a Big 12 Championship and a National Championship is something you can’t prepare yourself for.
“It’s actually crazy,” Butler said. “It’s something that I’ve never expected … but at the same time it’s something that I can’t control at all. Like right now it’s raining outside, and I can be mad that it’s raining, but at the end of the day I can’t do anything about it. I’m not going to grumpy about it the rest of my life. I’m just trying to look past it and control what I can control.”
Still, success like the Bears had this season tends to shine a light, and that light meant NBA attention for the sophomore from Reserve, La. In most mock drafts, Baylor’s point guard is hovering around the middle of the second round, and that’s a huge jump for a player that wasn’t on anyone’s radar coming into the season.
Butler can now choose whether to stay at Baylor with the opportunity to make a run at the national title or to move on to the NBA where the paychecks are hefty and the real dreams can be fulfilled.
“There is so much uncertainty, and so many things you have to consider,” Butler said. “Are there going to be pre-draft workouts? Is there going to be a combine? Is there going to be a summer league? It’s a tough decision, and even if it was a regular season without the coronavirus it would still be tough.”
Although the team’s last official meeting came in Kansas City, Mo., before its return to Waco, Butler’s teammates are still doing their best to support their leading scorer from wherever they are across the country. And considering the circumstances, it’s no surprise that COVID-19 is “almost everything [they] talk about.”
The guard also has his coaching staff’s support, as head coach Scott Drew and Butler have made clear. Drew did say in a teleconference on March 24 that this team is presented with a unique opportunity.
“Hopefully this group all returns with the same hunger and desire and love for each other, and now we have a chance to finish what we started,” Drew said. “Hopefully you have a Big 12 Tournament. Hopefully you have an NCAA tournament. The NCAA Tournament and March Madness is such a memorable time…something where players often leave their mark on a university or college basketball.”
Butler said the support comes from everywhere, and now it’s just up to him to lean on them and make a decision.
“I have talked to Tweety Carter,” Butler said. “Not so much about NBA advice, but he’s always just been helping me with growing up. [My teammates have been] super supportive. I think, obviously, they would want me to stay, and in some ways I want to stay too, but also in some ways I want to pursue my dreams.”