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    Swanson: Why Lamont Butler’s shining moment for San Diego State resonates
    • April 3, 2023

    A couple of weeks ago – days ago? – if someone mentioned a San Diego State hooper from Moreno Valley via a Riverside high school, you would’ve thought of Kawhi Leonard, the one-time Martin Luther King High School standout and two-time NBA champion who stars for the Clippers.

    Now you’re thinking of Lamont Butler.

    Aztec hero Lamont Butler.

    NCAA tournament legend Lamont Butler.

    The former Riverside Poly star hit the buzzer-beater Saturday, his pull-up with 0.7 seconds left sending the Aztecs to their first NCAA championship game in program history – and sending the city of San Diego, from the Gaslamp Quarter to Viejas Arena, and wherever people were watching, into a frenzy. Much of the Inland Empire, too.

    His mom, Carmicha, said when the crowd at Houston’s NRG Stadium erupted around her after her son’s game-winner in No. 5 San Diego State’s 72-71 victory over No. 9 Florida Atlantic in the Final Four, she didn’t join them. She couldn’t. “I was speechless. I sat down and literally bawled.”

    Lamont Sr. said he found himself marveling at the payoff as he watched it happen: “The work really works.”

    And after making the shot, the younger Butler stood in place on the court, upright, unmoving, arms at his side. Defiant? Cool? Stunned, he said: “A little shocked,” he told reporters in Houston.

    As of Sunday morning, Carmicha said she hadn’t even been able to wade through all the messages on her phone. There have been so, so many – so many of them coming from the family’s supporters close to home in Moreno Valley: “They’re excited for him and they’re pulling for him; it’s an amazing experience for them to watch as well.”

    Hall of Famer Reggie Miller – whose career scoring record Butler broke at Riverside Poly with his 1,836 points – retweeted video of Butler’s shot, part of the tidal wave of well wishes and I-remember-whens on social media spurred by the moment.

    And what a shining moment!

    What madness! The fifth buzzer-beater in Final Four history, and the first for a team that was trailing. A miracle rehearsed a million times – first by the boy counting down seconds in the driveway, and then by that young man who spent all last summer in San Diego trying to perfect that pull-up jumper.

    The best Poly Bear since @ReggieMillerTNT

    — Cory Ritzau (@CoryRitzau) April 2, 2023

    The moment was made possible by Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher, who recruited a team of “unentitled grinders,” as San Diego Union-Tribune beat writer Mark Zeigler characterized them. Without any five-star recruits, but with the presence of mind to thank chefs and hug hotel service staff, to prioritize defense and sacrifice stats for the good of the team.

    The scene Saturday set by Dutcher’s decision not to foul and not to call a timeout even trailing by one point and with just seven seconds left in the Final Four.

    Risky calls? Sure. But trusting Butler to drive downhill, into the Owls’ defense? Handing the keys to the 6-foot-2 junior point guard who’d pulled up and drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the win at New Mexico just recently, on Feb. 25?

    A pretty sound bet. Put the ball in Butler’s hands and Dutcher said he’ll be quite willing to “live with whatever happens” next.

    “In that moment, to take that shot, you gotta be built different,” Lamont Butler Sr. said by phone Sunday, when he estimated he’d come “down to Cloud 8.”

    “Everybody don’t have the guts to take a shot like that. They don’t want to live with the letdown and if we miss the game-winning shot and we lost. Lamont’s so even-keeled, if he makes the shot or not, he knows it’s the right shot to take.”

    Words can’t express how proud I am of this guy. Love you son, you are a champ!!!

    — Lamont Butler Sr. (@Lamontbutler5) March 27, 2023

    However intrinsic that quality is, it’s also been cultivated by those close to him.

    He comes from a tight-knit family; 24 relatives were among the 73,860 fans in the arena to see Butler get it done.

    “His pedigree is part of what makes it really special,” said Tim Cook, the head basketball coach at Life Pacific University in San Dimas, whose son Austin played AAU ball with Lamont. “He’s a really special young man. He treats people the right way, he plays with a smile, he plays the right way and he’s just so easy to root for.”

    And he’s gotten clutch support with his basketball family at San Diego State, all those who stood strong beside him after Butler’s sister Asasha Lache Hall was murdered last March.

    She was 10 years older than Lamont, so he’d always been in the stands watching closely when she played at Ontario’s Colony High School with her sisters, winning a couple section titles. And she’d always been in the stands, in her usual seat near the court, to see him play as an Aztec.

    “The coaches, as well as the players on this team, they have really embraced Lamont, especially during one of the most difficult times in his life,” Carmicha said. “They really rallied around him and supported him in every aspect. Whatever he needed, they were here for him: ‘If you don’t want to play, do you need to talk, whatever it is you need. We’re here for you.’”

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    Lamont Butler hits game-winner, sends San Diego State to title game

    “That was huge, amazing for him and us as well. This is our other family.”

    The Butlers, with their extended basketball family, will buckle up for whatever encore Lamont might have in store in Monday’s title game against the No. 4 Connecticut Huskies, four-time national champions.

    One of those came in 2011, when they beat Leonard’s San Diego State squad along the way, 74-67, in the Sweet 16.

    Now another Aztec by way of the Inland Empire has a shot. And if that shot is a midrange jumper, you’ve got to feel pretty good about it.

    Lamont Butler said he emphasized taking mid-range shots like that this past offseason.

    He’d work on making 10-15 in a row just to get his “consistency up”. #MFinalFour | #GoAztecs

    — Julian Del Gaudio (@JulianDelGaudio) April 2, 2023

    “Dad where we’re u when Lamont butler hit that shot” IN VIEJAS WITH THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO!!! AZTECS TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!! #MarchMadness

    — Alama Uluave (@alama_uluave) April 2, 2023


    — Chase Izidoro (@chaseizi) April 2, 2023

    ​ Orange County Register