Brian Butch is just glad to be home.
The Appleton West alum, who led the Terrors to a state title in 2003 — his 45-point quarterfinals performance is still legendary — was a stalwart of the Wisconsin Badgers for four years before embarking on a ten-year professional career overseas.
During that span, in 2011, he and his wife bought a home in Neenah, close to home, but weren’t there very often.
“We always had a place to call home. I always called it a really expensive storage unit for a while,” he says with a laugh.
His wife often traveled with him overseas as he played in China, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, a time that also included stints in the NBA D-League (now called the G League, thanks to a sponsorship from Gatorade) and on NBA rosters, though he never cracked through to see regular season action in the NBA.
When the playing days became numbered, he started to look for ways to stay involved in the game he loves.
“The older I got, the body hurt more,” he says in an interview at Menomonee Nation Arena in Oshkosh. (Living) in Neenah … the transition was there.”
Last year he reached out to the management of the Wisconsin Herd, the new G-League affiliate of the Bucks, who offered him a shot as an assistant coach.
“They were generous enough to give me an opportunity,” he says. “For a guy that’s never coached before in a role that kind of fits what’s going on with my life and everything… it’s absolutely fantastic.”
This season has gotten off to a rough start for the Herd, who started 4-22 before reeling off a four-game win streak. But for Butch it’s not necessarily about wins and losses in the G-League.
“That’s the first and foremost thing,” Butch says. “Obviously our job is to win games here, right? The first stage, though, is to help the Bucks. The second stage is to develop guys that might help and then win games. So obviously some things change, there’s a lot of roster moving. But Coach (Jordan) Brady and (General Manager) Dave Dean have done a great job of continuing when things have happened to get guys in here that can play and learn the system.”
Butch notes that the Herd run the same offensive and defensive systems that the Bucks do, so that Bucks bench players can easily plug in with the Herd to get some playing time, and Herd players can be ready to make the jump when the time comes.
“I think first and foremost it’s a feeder system,” Butch says. “When you look back upon it, we’ve got Sterling Brown playing. He’s the sixth man off the bench (for the Bucks). We’ve had DJ Wilson playing. He’s the seventh man off the bench. We’ve had Christian Wood come here and play and it looks like … Christian Wood’s probably going to play (for the Bucks). So that’s the first thing. So I think when you look at it, the record has played a factor, but I think overall when you look at what we are supposed to do, it’s done.”
And to the extent that the Herd play a role in whether or not the Bucks succeed … the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and at 40-13, the Bucks currently hold the best record in the NBA.
Plus, the Herd is looking to put on a good show for the fans, who Butch says are some of the best — but needed something to cheer for in the winter.
“The (Milwaukee Brewers affiliate) Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have been great. They’ve had nothing but huge support,” Butch says. “But then all of a sudden winter came and people really had nowhere to go for that feel. You’re an hour and a half away from Milwaukee. You’re two hours, an hour forty-five from Madison.”
So pro basketball was just what the city — and the Fox Valley region — needed.
“And wow, they’ve come out super strong support of us,” Butch says. “Even though our record is what it is, every game is still sold out, the support is strong. It makes for a great environment. But I think the people here in the Valley needed something like that. I think they’ve shown that they want it here.”
And for Butch, to provide that experience for what amounts to a hometown crowd has been extra special.
“The last two years it’s been nice to be home and kind of grow some roots and you know start the family stuff,” says Butch, who welcomed his first child in December.
Butch, now 34, doesn’t have the next step figured out quite yet, and that’s just fine with him. He’s keeping options open, both coaching and co-hosting a morning radio sports talk show on the local ESPN affiliate.
“I think you always have a plan in place,” he says. “I mean, I think anybody that goes day by day (without a plan) doesn’t end up reaching their goals. Everybody has goals that they write down, try to reach. For me, with this and our season, is to try to win games here. And with the morning radio show that I do as well … there’s a lot of moving parts in what I do. Because you do know this lifestyle, the coaching lifestyle, is very similar to the player lifestyle. You gotta win games to keep your job, and even when you do that, sometimes you don’t even keep it. So there’s different paths and visions. You never know where that goes so you’ve always gotta try to have some kind of plan in place as well.”
Butch also has fond memories and lasting connections from his time as a Badger.
“My time in Madison was absolutely wonderful,” he says. “Loved every minute of it, love getting back what I can get back. It means something to go to the University of Wisconsin, and I believe that it still does mean something to go to the University of Wisconsin. No matter where I’ve been throughout the world, when you’re a Badger, (people) know you’re a Badger. They come, they say hello, and that’s one of the best feelings out there when someone comes up to you and says, ‘On, Wisconsin.’ It’s been great. It’s nice to be home.”