Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Subregional Notebook

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Caron Butler had to take his chance to get out of Wisconsin.

The Connecticut sophomore, who led the Huskies into the Sweet 16 Sunday, played at the same East sub-regional site as the Badgers. His family took the opportunity as a chance to watch him play in the NCAA tournament.

Butler, who is from Racine, said his flock of cousins has rarely had a chance to watch him play in college, not to mention his last two years of high school at Maine Central Institute.

Butler fled Racine in 1998 for the renowned prep basketball power and became the national high school player of the year. This weekend he and his family watched Wisconsin play but, though he said he respects what they have done, he no longer pays much attention to the Badgers.

“They didn’t recruit me,” Butler said. “So I don’t really follow basketball in Wisconsin. I would have loved to play there, but it didn’t really fit my style of play.”

Butler, like Louisville’s Reese Gaines and Penn State’s Sharif Chambliss, is an example of Wisconsin talent gone elsewhere. This year, he contributed 19.5 points, starting all 31 games for Big East champion UConn.

But Butler’s exodus was more than a matter of contrasting styles. A troubled past forced him out of Racine.

When he was 15, police caught Butler at Case High School with drugs and firearms. He served 15 months in jail and juvenile hall, which he said turned his life around — and got him into basketball.

After he was released, however, Racine’s school system refused to let him enroll.

“I didn’t have no schooling,” Butler said. “And I didn’t have no possible way to go to school.”

So he got a job and snuck into community college. With passing grades and living in a better neighborhood, he convinced the district to allow him back.

“I opened doors for myself,” Butler said. “They didn’t open up anything. They didn’t give me no leeway. I had to go out there and get it.”

Caron shot up to 6-foot-7. He averaged 24.3 points and 11.1 rebounds for Park High School, but the state removed his eligibility after the season when it found he had been enrolled at college.

Butler went to Maine — far away from Racine — to have a chance to avoid the doubts and questions from those who knew his past and said he would never make it. MCI helped mold him into a top college prospect, and Butler chose to stay out East where he was comfortable and out from under the microscope.

Even if the Badgers had tried to sign him, Butler said it was too soon to go home.

“It would have been a real big challenge, but I don’t think it would have been best for me,” he said. “College life has got to be separate from family life, and that was too close. I think the best thing for me was to get away from that for a while and establish myself in the world.”

Another local talent:

Hampton coach Steve Merfeld would welcome the opportunity to return home. Observers expect Merfeld, from Delafield, Wis., to find many suitors should he decide to pursue a job elsewhere this offseason.

Merfeld coached the Pirates to the NCAA tournament’s second round in 2001, garnering attention for himself and the historically black school. His best coaching may have come this season, leading Hampton back to the tournament despite losing three seniors, and giving No. 2-seeded Connecticut a tight game in the East sub-regional. After the loss, Merfeld was asked about his future.

“We’re going to start tomorrow building another championship,” he said.

The Associated Press reported interest in Merfeld from schools as major as Florida State. The Norfolk Journal and Guide, however, said the Seminoles have no formal intentions of going after Merfeld, and a mid-major like UW-Green Bay is more likely.

Merfeld is reportedly a big fan of Dick Bennett, the former Phoenix and UW coach who was a minor college legend in Wisconsin while Merfeld coached the boys’ team for St. John’s military academy in Delafield.

A former Hampton assistant, Merfeld also assisted at Bowling Green for 10 years.

City styles:

Sunday’s North Carolina State-Connecticut game featured three players from New York City — the Wolfpack’s Julius Hodge and the Huskies’ Taliek Brown and Ben Gordon. Hodge, from Harlem, had 13 points and nine rebounds while Brown, from Queens, scored eight. Gordon, from Mount Vernon, did not score in 25 minutes.

Brown and Hodge faced each other in pickup games in the city.

“I saw [Hodge] on the playground,” Brown said. “It was just like a playground league, and I didn’t know who he was. He was just talking a lot of trash, pointing at people, scoring and looking like he was having fun.”


Better than Boise:
Wisconsin, Maryland and Hampton, three of the eight teams allocated to Washington, D.C., for the opening rounds, played in the same sub-regional as each other at last year’s NCAA tournament. A potential Terrapins-Badgers matchup in the second round that year was averted when UW lost its opening game. Hampton lost to Georgetown in the second round, and Maryland beat the Hoyas on its way to the Final Four.

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