November 20, 2006

Just to Be Safe, Butorac Dunks the Ball

Nov. 20, 2006

Story and Photo by Brandon Hansen

There's a reason why Eastern Washington University men's basketball player Paul Butorac chooses to dunk the ball.

"Sometimes if you lay it off the backboard it misses," said the 6-foot-10 senior, who has had 64 dunks out of 219 career field goals. "So I just dunk it instead."

It's not the NBA, jam style of play that the center from nearby Medical Lake, Wash., is going for. Butorac is a player that will get things done on both sides of the floor.

"I definitely focus on blocking shots and getting defensive rebounds," he said. "Every day in practice I'm working on that."

That certainly rang true when Butorac racked up three dunks en route to a career-high 20 points in EWU's 85-70 victory over Lewis-Clark State on Nov. 18 in the home opener for the Eagles. But that wasn't even the highlight of the night for him.

His 22 rebounds -- besting his previous career high by 10 boards -- and five blocked shots in the game rank second in school history in both categories. He helped lead Eastern on a 15-1 run in the second half to enable the Eagles to pull away from the Warriors.

"He was huge," said EWU head coach Mike Burns. "We struggled at the start and for Paul to step up and perform like that was great. He and Rodney Stuckey played like captains should play."

His defensive performance and Stuckey's 33-point explosion provided the spark for the Eagles in their win against the Warriors, despite having three players sit out the game due to violation of team rules.

The only Eagle on the team with NCAA Tournament experience, Butorac knows what it will take to make it back to the Big Dance.

"There's nothing like it," he said. "We have that goal on our wall -- that's what we're going for. Unless you go, you don't know what it's about."

A freshman on the Big Sky Championship team in 2003-2004, Butorac was able to play with EWU legends Alvin Snow, Josh Bernard and Brandon Merritt, but he feels that this year's team may have an advantage over Eastern's previous tournament team.

"I think we're a lot deeper," said Butorac, "And we have the biggest star in the Big Sky Conference."

That would be Stuckey, who as a freshman last year earned Big Sky Conference MVP honors and Collegeinsider.com's Freshman of the Year award.

And while Stuckey will play a large part in the team's success this season, Butorac is also being called upon to step up and be a leader as a senior. The expectations aren't unfounded either.

Last year, he was ninth in the Big Sky in rebounds with 5.4 a game. And his school-record 51 blocked shots ranked 20th in conference history for a single season. He also had one mean Mohawk hairdo, which he's traded this season for a more conservative style.

"I feel great about it," Butorac said of his leadership role. "I've been around here a while so I know what's going on. I accept it."

He will also have a chance to get his name in the history books again, as his 77 career blocked shots are only two behind Chris White's 79 for the EWU school record. And he'll get a chance to do that at home against Evergreen State when the Eagles' face off against the Geoducks on Nov. 21 in Reese Court at 8:15 p.m.

It will be an exclamation point to his college career that has unfolded only a few miles from where he played high school ball in Medical Lake, Wash.

Remember him? He averaged 20.8 points and 12.3 rebounds per game as a senior and won two Great Northern League MVP honors. He was also a member of the Spokesman-Review All-Area team. So you could understand the fan base he's been developing locally.

"It's great," said Butorac. "I get a chance to have my family and friends from high school come to the games."

And, of course, watch him dunk, score, rebound and block shots.

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