No point totals or game clock adorned the scoreboard in the Stratford Academy gym in Macon, Georgia, on Saturday morning.
Only the name Devin Butts could be seen in yellow lights above the basket as family, friends, teammates and fans remembered the former Stratford and North Carolina Central University basketball player, who died May 5 after he collapsed while playing basketball. He was 22.
Butts’ silver casket was surrounded by a portrait and flowers as a crowded gym laughed, cried and remembered his life.
“My grandma said that it wasn’t the birth date that’s important, or the transition date, that’s not important. It’s that dash in the middle,” said LeVelle Moton, Butts’ head basketball coach at NCCU. “It was his kindness…that’s the dash, the impact he had.”
Moton was the first of many to speak about Butts’ stellar jump shot when he remembered recruiting him to play at NCCU. More important to the head coach than Butts’ ability was his respect, as he also touched on Butts’ mentorship of his son.
“He made him feel like he was a part of the team, let him sit in on the drills,” Moton said. “He was a great basketball player, but an even better person.”
Several AAU, high school and college teammates remembered Butts during the memorial service. They recounted his prolific shooting ability, his motivation and, above all, how he inspired them.
“He was my ‘why,’” one teammate said through tears. “He was the reason I played so hard, the reason I played at all. I was in the transfer portal three times… I just wanted to play with him.”
NCCU deputy athletic director Kendra Greene delivered a resolution on behalf of the university.
“Devin was pursuing his bachelor’s degree and on track to graduate this summer; without question, he would have continued in our service a model of truth and service in his profession,” Greene said. “His infectious smile always brightened any room he inhabited.”
Butts’ family, dressed in shades of white and blue, thanked speakers for their condolences and love. Devin’s father Derex concluded the reflections by recalling when Devin finally beat him in a pickup game.
Pastor Larry Welch delivered Butts’ eulogy, encouraging the community and giving a customized basketball to Butts’ parents.
“Devin may indeed be in a better place now, but guess what, we would rather have him here with us... Basketball was his life, and people loved him, no matter who he came in contact with. If you walked with him, you walked with a better person,” Welch said. “But now he plays on God’s heavenly basketball team.”
A high school star
Butts starred at Stratford from 2015 to 2019, garnering a three-star prospect rating from 247Sports. He averaged 28 points per game as a senior, a school record, and committed to Mississippi State.
An injury derailed Butts’s Bulldog career before he played off the bench at Louisiana and then transferred to a junior college. He landed at NCCU this past year, where he played basketball.
Butts was set to finish his schoolwork and graduate over the summer, NCCU officials said. He planned to use his final year of eligibility to play for the Eagles next year, according to NCCU athletic director Louis Perkins
Officials have not released a cause of death. Perkins said that Butts had collapsed in the week leading up to his death.