As a freshman at Mississippi State, Isaiah Butler tried out for the team and made it. The team was the practice squad for MSU women’s basketball, a group of young men who devoted their time to serving as the scout team and opposition in practice, in return for very little. After two years there, Butler joined Rick Ray and the men’s team to serve in similar fashion, filling in during practice for a team ravaged with injuries and in need of bodies to run a full practice. Again, Butler did all this with little to no compensation.
Finally, in his senior year, Ray asked Butler to join the team as a walk-on, travel with the guys, play on the court in actual games against actual competition as a real member of the team. That much alone was a dream brought to reality for Butler.
Then, as the new semester began this week, his time and effort paid off even more. After three and a half years of free and draining labor, Ray told Butler he was being put on full scholarship for his final semester, giving him the opportunity to graduate and begin his career comfortably.
Butler is working on an ambitious BS-IS degree with concentrations in kinesiology, psychology and history. He expects to graduate this summer and I’m told he has hopes of becoming a teacher and coach.
Ray took a few minutes Monday to talk about the decision to award Butler a scholarship.
“I think being a walk-on player, a non-scholarship player, in college athletics, is the hardest thing that you can do. You’re doing all the things that scholarship players do as far as exerting effort, working, going to practice, lifting weights, doing the conditioning, all without the reward. For a guy like Isaiah, who’s done all the things we’ve asked him to do both on and off the court, to make all those sacrifices just to be a part of Mississippi State basketball means a lot. Any time we have an opportunity where we can reward guys that have done the things we’ve asked them to do, we need to make sure we do that.
“To me, obviously, I told him my payoff is, use this scholarship money to graduate. That’s the best way that you can help Mississippi State basketball and Mississippi State University is to make sure you take this scholarship money we’re giving you and make it come to a fruition with a diploma.
“It was really a touching moment inside our locker room when I told him about being on scholarship. The guys in that room know how much he sacrifices and how much he cares about the basketball team. For me, it was always something rewarding. This is what you get in this business to do, to help young men out. And that’s an actual moment where you can see it coming to fruition. I’m happy for him and I’m glad the guys went up and showed him that they cared about him and were happy, genuinely happy, about him being on scholarship.”