TYLER, Texas (KETK) — Jimmy Butler, the star player who has led the Miami Heat to the 2023 NBA Finals, once played on the court as a Tyler Junior College Apache. TJC men’s head basketball coach Mike Marquis reflected on his experience coaching the NBA star.

Butler was picked 30th overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. He’s a six-time NBA All-Star, 2015 NBA Most Improved Player, 2016 Olympic gold medalist and 2023 Larry Bird Trophy for Eastern Conference final MVP.

After a successful high school basketball career at Tomball High School, Butler was invited to TJC for a visit by Marquis.

“I fell in love with his personality,” Marquis said, “and after watching him play, I realized not only was he a great person, but he was also a wonderful talent.”

Butler led the Apaches in scoring with 19 points per game before going on to play Marquette University.

He played the 2017-2018 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and 2018-2019 season with the Philadelphia 76ers before joining the Miami Heat in 2019.

The Heat have made it to the NBA Finals twice within Butler’s four years with the team. Coach Marquis said he has received a lot of media calls in the days leading up to Butler and the Miami Heat winning the Eastern Conference Finals.

“So far, there’s been The Washington Post, The Ringer Podcast Network, Sporting News, Texas Monthly and The New York Times,” he said. “There isn’t any former player I wouldn’t do this for. It’s fun. I love it.”

Marquis has seen Butler’s complete transformation from being a TJC freshman to an NBA MVP.

“When he got here right out of high school, he was a bit more insecure,” he said. “Then, as more success came his way and his confidence grew, the natural leadership abilities came out. I thought he had a chance to be very special early on.”

Marquis noticed several things about Butler from the start that he says he still exhibits today:

“1) He always seeks contact. He’s a very physical player. He was like that even as a freshman. Most players are avoiding contact, but he liked it. He wanted to mix it up; 2) He craves knowledge. He wanted to learn about the game and his position — and how to get better; and 3) He was maybe the most competitive person I’ve ever been around. There have been few others, but he was competitive in drills, in one-on-one situations, in practice and in games. He doesn’t let up,” Marquis said.

Butler remembers TJC as a crucial moment in his life.

“It was the first time that someone took a chance on me,” he said in a 2022 New York Times interview.

Marquis said that Butler signed his jersey to him saying ‘Once an Apache, always an Apache.’

“That pride and loyalty goes all the way back to Coach Floyd Wagstaff. People who played for Coach Wagstaff want to talk to me about Jimmy. People who are coming here next year as freshmen want to talk about Jimmy,” Marquis said.

Marquis is very proud of Butler and gives him his full support.

“Apache Nation is absolutely behind him all the way. He is an amazing story, and obviously we couldn’t be prouder or love him more than we do. TJC has thousands and thousands of success stories in all walks of life. It’s just that in Jimmy’s particular walk of life, there’s a lot of publicity that goes with it,” he said.

In 2018, the lobby of Wagstaff Gym at TJC was named after Jimmy Butler and he was named a legend of TJC.