Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Sports

August 25, 2010

Butts jersey to be retired Friday night

AMERICUS — No one will wear the No. 23 jersey at Americus-Sumter girls basketball game ever again.

There’s been no one more dominating than Niya Butts during her four years at Americus High from 1992-96.

The school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder went on to play and win two national championships for Pat Summitt at Tennessee and is now the head coach at Arizona.

Butts’ jersey will be retired before Friday’s football game between Americus-Sumter and Liberty County. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

“I feel certainly honored and appreciative for everything and all the experiences I had at Americus High School and what all the people have done for me,” said Butts. “It’s a bigger deal for me to come back and say thank you than anything else. To see old faces and make sure they understand I appreciate every moment and memory made in Americus, that those people, those teammates and those coaches helped shape my life.”

Butts played every position but point guard as she started all four years for the Lady Panthers. She set the school record with 36 points — which was broken last season by Jayme Gilbert — in December 1995 as Americus set a school record for points in a 111-65 win against Dooly County.

Butts led Americus to a 24-7 record and to the Class 3A Final Four her junior season in which she averaged 18.3 points a game.

Coach Evelyn Wright said she did it all.

“She could play any position we needed her to,” she said. “With her size, she was a great ball handler, a great passer, and she could just do a lot of things with the basketball. She was probably our No. 1 defensive player. She could block shots, rebound and make the outlet pass for the fast break. She was All-Region, she was all everything. She was in control.”

Wright said the school will unveil the jersey at the first home basketball game this fall and recognizing Butts in this manner is way overdue.

Wright said Butts was her first blue-chipper and is the perfect example for girls coming up in the program who want to play basketball and be successful afterward.

“I think our kids need to see you can come from Americus, leave Americus and go play at a Division-I school,” said Wright. “We have that kind of talent in Americus now. She graduated and now has a top-paying job in Division-I. The opportunity is there, and they can do whatever they want to do. We can compete with the best of them.”

Butts said despite circumstances, she was driven to be successful.

“Growing up, I didn’t have everything everybody else had,” she said. “I had a great family and people who loved me and supported me. From a financial standpoint, sacrifices had to be made. You can come from any situation. Your background don’t have to be perfect. Your surroundings don’t have to be perfect. You can still make it with those circumstances. You can still go out and be the best you can be. You shouldn’t let those things be blockers.”

Wright said the school is considering the possibility of opening a Hall of Fame, and Butts believes that’s a great tool for future athletes.

“I certainly know that people are interested in what happens and what goes on there; there’s been a lot of successful people,” she said. “There’s a ton of success stories. I think it’s something to visit and for athletes to learn who’s come before them. It can be an inspiration to those who are there now. I think it can be beneficial.”

The ceremony will begin at 6:30 p.m. Among the festivities, Butts’ former principal Junita Wilson will say a few words and Americus Mayor Barry Blount will give a proclamation.

“Those four years there (at Americus) meant the world to me,” said Butts. “Without those four years, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

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