Sachem North’s James Butler had one last thought as he watched what proved to be the final shot of his high school basketball career.
“As soon as it left my hand,” Butler said, “I was like, ‘This is the 1,000th point.' ”
On a 27-foot three-pointer, no less.
Sachem North coach Matt Candemeres immediately called a timeout to give Butler one last show of appreciation from the crowd and subbed his 6-footer out midway through the fourth quarter.
The Flaming Arrows senior point guard scored 42 points that game to land exactly on 1,000 for his varsity career in a win at Connetquot on Feb. 6. He needed 82 points in Sachem North’s final two regular-season games, and struck for 40 against Commack in a 59-50 loss on Feb. 4 to set up his final-game heroics.
Butler ended the season second on Long Island in scoring average at 28.1 points per game, trailing Mattituck’s Xavier Allen at 30.1, based on scores reported to Newsday. Butler added 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game for Sachem North (8-12, 5-7 Suffolk II), and made 62 three-pointers, Candemeres said.
“I knew it was my last time playing basketball with the guys I’ve been playing with nearly my whole life,” said Butler, who said he was emotional after scoring his milestone points. “My teammates have made the whole journey special.”
Connetquot coach Andrew Clair made Butler’s evening even more special after the final horn when he gave Butler the game ball.
“It was really a class-act move,” said Butler, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week. “I’m going to have the coaches and my teammates sign that ball.”
Butler started playing basketball in fourth grade and bounced between CYO programs at Good Shepherd (Holbrook) and St. Joseph’s (Ronkonkoma) through grade school. He also played baseball for a few seasons but stopped in sixth grade and started playing lacrosse.
He soon realized he was very good at lacrosse, however, “I love basketball,” Butler said. “I feel more natural with lacrosse. In basketball, I had to do a lot of work. I definitely worked hard at lacrosse, too, but it was much harder for me with basketball. Lacrosse comes much easier.”
Butler averaged 13.4 points per game as a junior. He scored more than 20 points in a game once last season. This season, he scored less than 20 points in a game just three times.
“His confidence went up in the offseason and he knew he was the guy,” Candemeres said. “I don’t think there’s one guy on Long Island that can cover him one-on-one. He has such a motor, the defense gets tired. He can shoot on the inside or outside. He can shoot off the dribble, and he can go to the basket with either hand. He’s deadly.”
Butler, who said he had a 97 weighted average last marking period, was offered a scholarship (half athletic and half academic, he said) to play lacrosse at LIU and signed a letter of intent in November.
But he’ll always have flashbacks of his senior season of hoops, especially his final game, and his final shot.
“I’ll definitely remember my coaches and teammates,” Butler said. “They were really the ones that made it special ... I wouldn’t have been able to [score 1,000 points] without them.”