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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Lamont Butler Jr. hugs his mother, Carmicha Butler, while surrounded by teammate Demarshay Johnson Jr. (left), his father, Lamont Butler Sr. (top), and SDSU coach JayDee Luster (lower right). (SDSU) Lamont Butler Jr. hugs his mother, Carmicha Butler, while surrounded by teammate Demarshay Johnson Jr. (left), his father, Lamont Butler Sr. (top), and SDSU coach JayDee Luster (lower right). (SDSU)

FINAL FOUR: SDSU Dad Lamont Butler Sr. Reflects on Son’s Journey from Backyard Hoops to NCAA’s Big Stage

As a toddler, Lamont Butler Jr. showed a determination to play basketball. Now, the selfless guard from Riverside, California, and his fellow Aztecs are one win away from playing for a national title.
By Mario Sevilla

Lamont Butler Sr. will be in Houston taking his seat among the more than 70,000 spectators at NRG Stadium, reveling in the pageantry that celebrates the nation’s most competitive collegiate tournament, the Final Four. 


Standing on the court in a No. 5 San Diego State University jersey will be his son, Lamont Butler Jr.


For Butler Sr., images of his own journey from South Central Los Angeles to Houston will replay in his mind like a movie starring himself and his high school sweetheart and wife, Carmicha Butler. It opens with a young couple and a chaotic birth scene in an unlikely venue.


“He was born in a garage. We called him the ‘G Baby,’” Butler Sr. says with a spirited laugh. Carmicha went into labor as she was getting into the family car. Just as he does on the court, Lamont took charge and arrived early.


“We knew he was special when he came out,” says the proud dad.


Butler Sr. shares stories about Lamont growing up with three older sisters, all basketball players, whom he followed around their Riverside backyard playing pickup hoops. He describes his once toddler son as wise and curious, an observer who was more interested in strategy. 


At his sisters’ games, instead of running around with the other young children, Lamont sat on a basketball along the sidelines and watched the action on the court, more coach than child.


“Like an adult … he used to go to the gyms and just sit there and watch,” says Butler Sr. “Anybody who knows Lamont knows his nickname, ‘Man Man.’ That's where he gets it from because he always carried himself like an adult.”


If You Wanna ‘Play Play,’ I’m Going to be a Different Dad


Butler Sr. wasn’t yet convinced that 7-year-old Lamont was serious about playing hoops. He also wasn’t ready to commit to several more years of traveling to practices, games and overnight tournaments. Carmicha urged him to let their son play in organized leagues, so he agreed to talk about it with Lamont.


“I said, ‘If you want to just play, we can play. But if you want to ‘play play,’ then I'm going to be a different dad,’” Butler Sr. says.


"Man Man" chose to "play play."


The Butlers strapped in for another ride in the youth basketball circuit, uncertain if Lamont was going to enjoy it — or be any good. They made the weekly trek from Riverside to Los Angeles so Lamont could play alongside his older cousin in a 9U league. Lamont’s talent and rapid development turned Butler Sr. into a believer. 


In high school, Lamont’s career at Riverside Polytechnic is considered legendary despite hearing from some critics that his playing career wouldn’t go far. Some said he didn’t score enough or that he wasn’t tall enough. It was the motivation he needed.


His senior year, Lamont surpassed 1,800 career points, breaking the school’s all-time leading scoring record previously held by NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. It was a feat Butler Sr. believes would have been broken a year earlier if not for Lamont’s selfless brand of basketball.


Butler Sr. says his son wasn’t a flashy scorer, and still, the Butlers’ phone rang with calls from recruiters. SDSU and others had taken notice of the 6-foot-2 guard, and he recalls hearing that his son was getting recruited because he was a leader — not just because he scored 30 points a game. 


“That checked me,” Butler Sr. says. “He wasn’t even trying to break [Miller’s] record: He just did what he had to do. Like Sunday’s [win over Creighton in the Elite Eight], he did what he had to do for the team to win.”


‘He Just Broke Down’


Lamont has played a key role in the Aztecs’ success this season. That includes his buzzer-beating 3-pointer to help secure SDSU’s Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and the program’s first-ever trip to the Final Four. 


RELATED: Aztecs Headed to SDSU’s First-Ever Final Four, Beat Creighton 57-56  


The junior was SDSU’s top scorer in their win over Creighton in last Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup in Kentucky. Lamont recorded 18 points and was two-for-two from 3-point range in SDSU’s 57–56 win.


But as the team and its fans celebrated on the court after the game, there was a moment of sorrow for Butler Sr. and his family.


The U.S. Army veteran says he’s experienced a lot of joy and heartbreak in his life, none more painful than the sudden loss of his youngest daughter, Asasha Hall, in 2022, at 30 years old. Asasha was one of Lamont’s biggest influences and supporters.


“When I hugged him, he just broke down,” says Butler Sr. “He thought about his sister, all the hard work, [being told he was] never good enough.


“My wife cried. I was trying to be strong, but I almost had tears. If my tears came out, they would have had to call to come get this puddle up. I think I cried enough in my life.”


SDSU, The Show and Man Man


Butler Sr. and Carmicha travel to as many games as possible to support Lamont and the team. The couple felt at home the moment they visited SDSU three years ago. They know the players, coaches and families. With Lamont passing on USC, UCLA, Stanford and Colorado, Butler Sr. is proud his son chose SDSU.


“I looked around and I was thinking, ‘Man, this is what you want: to play in that student section, the fans and their support of the players,’” says Butler Sr. “The love you feel from the fans, I mean, they really love these kids.


“I told my wife that it’s going to be a hard experience to let go [after Lamont’s time at SDSU] whenever we have to let it go. I told Lamont to enjoy it.”


Since Lamont left home for SDSU in 2020, Butler Sr. makes sure to check in often.


“When I call him, I never check on his body. I’m like: ‘How’s your mental? How are you doing?’” says Butler Sr. “I would advise any parent to make sure they communicate with their kid [away at college], to go sit down and have breakfast with them or take them to dinner. They need that; they need the love.”


During one of their calls, Lamont reminded his dad that he once promised he was going to play for a national title, a conversation that still gives Butler Sr. chills. On Saturday, Lamont and the Aztecs will face Florida Atlantic Owls to take their shot at reaching the title game.


When father and son aren’t together or on the phone, Butler Sr. will walk into Lamont’s childhood room to reflect on their relationship and admire his “Man Man.”


“I don’t know why, but I always go in there. And I thank God,” says Butler Sr. “I can't believe that I’m blessed with this kid.”


RELATED: Striving ‘To be the Best,’ Nathan Mensah Shines on Court, in Classroom



SDSU will face East Region champion No. 9 Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday, April 1 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Tip-off is set for 3:09 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.



SDSU Head Coach Brian Dutcher and guard Lamont Butler Jr. during a press conference following Aztecs' win over Creighton to earn the university's first-ever trip to the Final Four. (SDSU)