During every Temple (12-19, 3-13 American Athletic Conference) home game, senior guard Alliya Butts sat in the same seat on the bench. It was the fifth seat from the left, and there was always a player who sat in the fourth seat between Butts and associate head coach Way Veney.
The player in the hot seat rotated in and out, but Butts and the coaches were always there talking to the player about what was happening in the game. Butts was new to the bench, as she spent 34.4 minutes per game on the court in the 2016-17 season. But, she had to take on a different role this year due to a torn ACL she suffered before the beginning of the season.
“When you sit back and watch and someone’s pointing things out, you get to notice things that you probably wouldn’t have noticed,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “When she sat there, she could hear it from us and then she could talk to whoever it was that sat there.”
Cardoza said Butts used her redshirt season to learn more about the game from watching and acting as a “little coach” with her younger teammates.
Her observations helped her teammates in the game, but Butts also hopes to grow from what she saw.
“I was able to watch and see everything that happened this season and take it and learn from it so we don’t make the same mistakes next year,” Butts said.
The guard from Edgewater Park, New Jersey, is already looking forward to playing next season, but she still has some rehabilitation left. After Butts tore her ACL, she began a long and difficult recovery process that involved an initial surgery to reconstruct her ACL and a second surgery to remove scar tissue when her healing took longer than expected.
Butts had to wear a brace and use crutches for several months, which made it difficult to do everyday tasks, like waking up and going to class across campus.
“It’s a marathon,” Butts said. “There’s baby steps to everything. First, you learn how to walk again. You get your walking right, and then you get your everyday life back. I was on crutches for four months. So after that, middle of January, when I got off my crutches, I felt like a new person, like I got my life back.”
Now, Butts is allowed to do light exercise, like jogging, dribbling and shooting, but both doctors and coaches still instruct her to take it slowly.
Cardoza sees no need to rush Butts, because she has five months or more before she will need to start getting into basketball again. Forcing anything too early could potentially interrupt the recovery process, which Cardoza and Butts said they want to avoid.
“We’re taking it slow, but once she is cleared for full-go, her mentality has to be aggressive,” Cardoza said. “When she’s fully cleared, she needs to be in an aggressive mindset where now all she’s doing is getting herself into the best shape possible in the gym. And I know that she will.”
When Butts rejoins the team next season, she will bring some much-needed scoring ability to a squad that will lose former guard Tanaya Atkinson, its leading scorer. Atkinson averaged just more than 21 points per game, while the second-best scorer, freshman Mia Davis, averaged 11.2 points per game.
In her junior season, Butts averaged 15.5 points per game and shot 36.6 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. With 1,481 career points, she ranks as the eighth all-time leading scorer in program history.
Temple played with a young team this season, with three to four freshmen typically starting. The hope for next season is that Butts will bring leadership and experience to the underclassmen-heavy team.
“There is a lot of pressure on her,” Cardoza said. “When you’ve set the bar and now every year, you’re trying to be better, and she set the bar pretty high after her first three years, so she’s trying to get back to that level. I think anything less, it will be a disappointment honestly.”
Butts feels the pressure to perform at the same level she has in past seasons and knows there are high expectations set by the team, her coaches and herself.
Butts wants to win enough games to make the NCAA Tournament and is embracing the challenge she has ahead as she continues to recover from her injury.
“I learned a lot during this process, like don’t take anything for granted,” Butts said. “I’m just going to accept it for what it is and make the best of it. But we’re going to see what happens. I’ll be back.”