2018-03-01 / Around Town

Conversation with Randy Butler

By Amy Martin

Butler showing Alexander Toribio how to get the ball past his opponent, while practicing at The Hut. (Photo by Jen Carter) Butler showing Alexander Toribio how to get the ball past his opponent, while practicing at The Hut. (Photo by Jen Carter) Randy Butler is a modest man. Don’t let his humility and genial nature fool you, though. He is tough and seasoned, and he gives every child he coaches a reason to strive for his or her best. Butler is just as passionate about the game of basketball now as he was when he was child in Newport and a varsity player at Rogers High School and then in college. His started his own academy in 2016, Butler Basketball, for youth ages 5 to 18.

What inspired you to become a basketball coach?

Basketball is my main love, so I felt like I could give back as a coach. I was given a lot of knowledge through my [playing] career. Also, my coach in high school [Rogers] influenced me. Jim Psaras. I talk to him almost every day. I go to him a lot for advice… He knows basketball… and kids.

How different of a coach are you now, from when you started coaching? What lessons has time and experience taught you?

When I first started, I just tried it to see how it was going to go…I played [the game], but coaching is totally different from playing…I’m tough. I might yell at you, but at the same time I might give you a hug. You’ve got to have a balance. That is what I learned.

How is coaching kids different now, compared to when you started playing?

The generation now is totally different. They won’t respect you if they don’t know you. That’s how I feel. I see it with my own eyes. Kids are way more disrespectful now than when we grew up… Parents are not disciplining their kids… Kids need to be disciplined sometimes.

They need to learn. A lot of kids don’t know what no means. Not all kids, but there are a lot. Some [parents] want to take their kid off a team because a coach is tough on them or because the kid is not getting a lot of playing time… The kid needs to work hard to get on that court.

You have coached at the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA, among many other community schools and organizations. Did you attend any of these programs or schools growing up?

The Boys & Girls Club was my second home…I grew up at the Boys & Girls Club. I played basketball there.

You grew up in Newport. How is Newport different today from the way it was when you were growing up here?

I see more people now getting along with each other…Before it was you had your little Fifth Ward guys, you had your little Tonomy Hill guys, but now I see everyone getting along with each other. The generation of mine and above had to get along with [each other] and now we are the adults. We know what we had to go through, and now [our generation] wants to make it better.

What was your childhood in Newport like?

I lived in the projects at that time…Tonomy Hill, ‘The Heights’ now. A lot of drugs, a lot of violence, and a lot of those guys out there were my friends. I didn’t get wrapped up in all of that…[Those guys] protected me. They didn’t want me in the system. They wanted me to keep playing basketball. They knew they were doing wrong, but they knew there was someone out there doing right.

What was your goal in starting Butler Basketball? Has that goal changed with time?

It started in June of 2016. We felt there was not enough for these kids to do on the island… We want[ed] to make it fair… Good prices, something for the kids to do. When kids get to the travel, the AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] part of our program, we want them to see that there is something outside of Aquidneck Island. They can see the talent. See what they need to work towards.

In November you were awarded the Role Model Award from the NAACP. How did it feel to be recognized for this particular award by such an impactful organization?

It made me feel proud, very proud actually. It’s not just me, it’s my whole program. I have a lot of friends that work with me and help me. It feels very good to know that we are giving these kids good options.

Being that February is Black History Month, do you feel that the city acknowledges this rich history sufficiently, or do we have more work to do?

No. I don’t think there is enough here. We are moving, slowly, but I think there needs to be a lot more history known. Not just during Black History Month. Why not during the rest of the school year? If we want to bridge this gap we need to get everything out there.

What do you want for the kids that come to your program, regardless of their athletic ability or aspirations, to take away from being a part of Butler Basketball?

That we just had a positive influence on them. No matter what. Maybe they are an artist. Last week I had a kid that hates basketball, hates coming. He told me he wants to be an artist. I told him he could be whatever he wanted to be. You don’t have to be a basketball player. Not everyone is a basketball player, but do what you like the best that you can. I challenged him. I told him he had homework. [His assignment] was to draw himself playing basketball and to have it here Saturday for me.

We also do community service. The kids served and had lunch with the elderly at Park Home in Tonomy Hill. They sewed beanbags together and then they played a game together… asked each other about their life history. [The kids] loved it. The elderly loved it even more.

Do you have any athletes that you have coached that have played beyond high school?

College. I want to get someone to the NBA or the WNBA. That’s my goal. It’s not about me. It’s about them…I had my glory. I want to coach someone to get better. Let them be proud of themselves. I’m going to be in basketball for a long time.

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