Mitchell Butler’s initial reaction was relief. After more than 2 years of a recruiting process that reached its zenith this past week, the 6-foot, 5-inch forward from Oakwood High made his college choice this week when he verbally committed to UCLA.
“It feels great. All the tension and strain have been released. I’m free now,” he said.
Butler was the Times Valley Player of the Year last season, averaging 31 points and 16 rebounds for Oakwood, the Southern Section Small Schools champion. He reached his decision Monday night and said that he will sign a letter of intent today, the first day of the weeklong early signing period for high school seniors.
For first-year UCLA Coach Jim Harrick, however, signing Butler is more than just the landing of a top-notch recruit. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. rules prohibit coaches from commenting about a prospect’s decision until today, but Harrick made it clear this spring when another highly recruited local basketball player--Simi Valley’s Don MacLean--signed with the Bruins that one of his top priorities in rebuilding the UCLA program is to keep local talent from going elsewhere.
“John Wooden said that if UCLA or USC just gets 2 of the top local recruits every year, they’ll win,” Harrick said when MacLean signed. “With Don and Darrick Martin, I feel I have those 2.”
And in Butler, who was named Southern Section Small Schools Division Player of the Year his sophomore and junior seasons, Harrick has one of the area’s top recruits.
Butler, who lives in Los Angeles, chose Oakwood because of his association with former Laker Happy Hairston. Butler attended a basketball camp sponsored by Hairston, who helped direct Butler toward the small, academically rigorous private school in North Hollywood.
“When you see a kid who can do what Mitch can do, you know he’s going to do well,” Hairston said. “He has Michael Jordan ability.”
Also committing during the early signing period are Cleveland’s Adonis Jordan and Warren Harrell. Jordan, a Times All-Valley selection last season, has committed to Kansas, and Harrell will sign with New Mexico State.
Taft’s Dedan Thomas, another Times All-Valley player, has committed to Nevada Las Vegas, and El Camino Real swingman Brent Lofton will sign with Utah State.