Butler, Wilson bound together by basketball and their hometown
Jamil Wilson admits he doesn't watch the news anymore, at least on television: Twitter is where it's at.
So, one afternoon in late August, after reading his Bible, he opened the social service and saw the rumors that Caron Butler was headed to Milwaukee.
On Aug. 29, the Bucks officially acquired Butler from the Phoenix Suns for Ish Smith and Viacheslav Kravtsov, and Wilson couldn't wait. He fired off a text of congratulations to a man who, for the better part of a decade, has helped the Marquette University senior grow as a basketball player and as a person.
How could he not? Butler, a Racine legend, had permanently left his mark on Wilson.
"I still have a scar on my leg from … I was 12 and I was really getting into basketball and we were at the YMCA and Caron dunked on me," Wilson said. "I know you're not supposed to tell stories like that but I was 12 and I don't care – he dunked on me and actually put a scar on my leg because his shoe kicked my shin. I've always had that."
Butler laughed at that memory.
It's incredible, really. A man who has played in over 760 NBA games, another 47 playoff games, countless pickup games and workouts with other NBA players, remembers a dunk he threw down on a kid in the Racine Family YMCA over 10 years ago.
He laughed, and smiled wide.
"I used to just go at him hard," Butler admitted. "Whenever he'd come to the gym, I'd call him and just go at him hard because at some point I'm not going to be able to play at a high level so I've got to get him while I can."
He grinned some more, but there was a lesson in that dunk.
"I just played hard against him and gave him a taste of what it is," Butler added. "And hopefully he learned from that experience and took it into college and hit the ground running and have a shot to make it at the next level, which he does."
Wilson definitely did.
"After that, I remember him telling me that every time he walk into a gym, he needs to be the best player and everyone needs to see the dog in you," Wilson remembered. "That's what he told me. When I was 12."
Now 23, Wilson has carried that with him through three full seasons at Marquette, a career that, when it's over, will span over 100 games and include at least three deep tournament runs. He has improved each season, too. Butler's advice on the game – and even the lesson learned from the dunk that has forever marked him – have carried a lot of weight for the senior.
"It means a lot just because of everything he's experienced," Wilson said. "He's won a world championship with the Mavericks. The kind of career he had at (Connecticut). He's been an All-Star. He definitely knows what he's talking about. From a basketball standpoint, it definitely means a lot more than most advice people can give me just because he's been in that position with those teams."
The advice doesn't stop there, either. It's not just a random pickup game in the summer at the Y, or a courtesy text message.
During one of Marquette's trips to New York for the Big East Tournament, Butler was playing in Brooklyn. So, he dropped in on Wilson for dinner. There's more, too.
"He don't know, but I keep good tabs on him," Butler said of Wilson. "Ernest Eugene is the (athletic) trainer at Marquette, and he was actually my trainer at Washington (with the Wizards), so I text him all the time, just keeping tabs on (Wilson) all the time, how's he doing, is his mind right? Then I kind of have a way or an approach of what to text him and just check on him. I really love what he's doing and I'm really happy for him."
That's not lost on Wilson.
"It shows that he cares, not only that he cares that I'm a good basketball player but he cares that I'm doing the right things on and off the court," he said.
"We've had our discussions wherever he's gone and he's always given me advice. He's always been one of those people behind me, pushing me, always told me he never wanted anything from me. He just wanted someone else to succeed from where he's from. I've always appreciated that. He's always been a good guy to me. If he's home he's always tried to see me. We've always tried to link up and connect. He's a great guy. Definitely someone I look up to and what he's done."
To Butler, Wilson is another Racine success story; an example that his efforts, even as small as text messages or a drive over from an NBA hotel, can make a real impact on kids.
According to city-data.com statistics, Racine exceeded the national average in violent crime in 11 of the 13 years between 1999 and 2011 and averaged over six murders a year in that same span.
Butler's early flirtations with becoming a statistic of his own are well documented, but he did make it out – and now he finds pure joy in seeing Wilson do the same.
"A lot of kids look up to me out there," Butler said of Racine. "I just try to reach back and try to inspire as much as possible. I'm a strong believe in 'seeing is believing' and if you have access to somebody that made it, and they tell you the do's and don'ts and they tell you what you can do to get over the hump, I think that gives you an extra edge."
"So, that's what I tried to do for him because I want more and more guys coming out of the city. We have so many talented guys in that little, small county but they just don't know better about certain situations so I just try to school them on game."
Wilson said Butler's advice worked for him.
"Knowing all the stuff that he's been through and he still made it out and still prospered and still succeeded when people said he wouldn't and he still gave back and came back and gave back more, it's just showing that he's a true testament that you can get out of the worst situations and you can prove people wrong and you can do all the things that people said weren't achievable, or that's a slim chance," he said, nearly breathless, pumping his hands for emphasis.
"When you're in second grade and you're like I want to be a pro basketball player and your teacher is like, 'uh, that's an unrealistic dream', it can come true. It's a perfect example of what can become when you put your heart and your mind in the right areas."
And while Butler, who is in his 12th NBA season, will have to hang up his sneakers sooner rather than later, Wilson will gladly take the torch of being an active professional basketball player from Racine who will go back and impart the same wisdom he was given to the future ballplayers hoisting shots on Sunday afternoons at the Y.
"Whenever I get the chance, I call (high school) coach (Jason Treutelaar) and tell him hey, I'll be in town and I'll go play with them," Wilson said. "And my dad (James) runs the community center so I'll go there just to play and things like that.
"That's the thing, I'm never too selfish about the game, especially towards kids. That's be something I'd definitely like to do."
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