Slam Dunk

A Nantucket native’s unlikely jump into professional basketball.

According to Josh Butler, he invented the slam dunk on Nantucket. Back when he played center at Nantucket High School, Butler put on jam sessions during games that became known as “show time.” This was the era of Whaler basketball domination when the team would blow out their opposition by landslide margins, once beating Sturgis High School ninety-eight to twelve. “Games weren’t about battling the other teams,” the twenty-two-year-old says. “We would battle each other.” Five years later, Josh Butler is now back on Nantucket High School’s hardwood, this time training with his old coach for a spot on a pro team in Spain. If he makes the cut, Butler will be the first Nantucket native to ever play professional basketball.

Despite his recent fast break, Butler’s basketball career has been anything but a layup. It all started on a crude court he and his father dug out in their backyard on Nantucket. Elvis Butler was a star football player for the Whalers back in the seventies who went on to play for Mississippi State before playing a season for the San Francisco 49ers. Growing up, Butler learned the game from Elvis, watching him play in a men’s league on Nantucket and taking him one-on-one on their home court.

Butler didn’t make varsity until his sophomore year of high school. A growth spurt changed that, and show time was born. Butler played all over the court, starting as a shooting guard his sophomore year and then ending up as a center. Every D3 college in the district recruited him, as well as some D2s. Nearing graduation, Butler set his sights on playing D1 ball, hopefully at UConn.

Then came his first rejection. UConn denied him, and Butler struggled to settle into another college program. He switched schools two times before dropping out of college entirely after his sophomore year. Butler moved to Boston and ended up working at a Payless shoe store where the closest he would come to the NBA was a pair of knock-off Jordans.

His luck changed when he returned to Nantucket and bumped into a former Whaler teammate at a softball game. After seeing Butler dominate in a few pick-up games, Jordan Ferreira told him he should come and play on his team at New England College, a D3 school with a promising program. Butler enrolled and show time was reborn. He thrived both athletically and academically at NEC, regularly scoring double doubles and making the dean’s list. He was on a roll until he hit yet another setback. With four games left in his senior season, Butler lost his NCAA eligibility for playing in a Pro-Am showcase, which is against NCAA rules. He was kicked off the team, and his basketball dreams looked to be over.

Leaving his teammates at New England College behind, Butler continued to play in front of coaches and scouts in Pro-Am showcases around the country, hoping to attract the attention of someone who could keep his basketball dreams alive. After scoring thirty-five points at a showcase in Philadelphia, he dropped forty-two at a game in Vermont and was named the MVP. This past July, he played in an exclusive Las Vegas showcase attended by NBA players, international teams, and coaches looking to recruit.

Amazingly, Butler’s jump into the pros didn’t hap- pen at these Pro-Am showcases, but rather on a golf course on Nantucket. Returning home to work as a valet at the Nantucket Golf Club, he was introduced to a big-time agent by a caddy. The agent looked into the twenty-two-year-old’s game and was convinced he has the stuff to be a star in the European league. “I got a call and within five seconds he knew everything about my game,” Butler says. He signed with the “powerhouse agency,” and come next year he could be playing pro basketball in Seville, Spain. “It’s truly a blessing,” Butler says. “My main goal now is to just get on the court and play my first pro game, and just make a move.”

Show time is back.

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