Like its namesake, the Butch-O-Meter has grown in stature and substance over the last few years.

The ode to Brian Butch - a large lawn ornament planted near the driveway of the home across the street from the Butch family residence on West Heritage Avenue - stands nearly 10 feet tall, a bigger-than-lifesize mural that also tracks the statistical exploits of the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's 6-foot-11 senior center.

"After last year I said, 'Let's go all-out and make it something great,' " said Pat Ford, whose yard is home to the new-and-improved Butch-O-Meter, one that replaced a smaller, simpler model that occupied the space the previous three years. "We love watching him play."

Ford, like all Badger fans, won't have the opportunity to watch Butch take to the basketball court in his No. 32 UW jersey too much longer. When the sixth-ranked Badgers open NCAA tournament play tonight against Cal State Fullerton in a first-round game in Omaha, Neb., the Appleton native has, at most, six games left in his collegiate career.

No matter when or where it ends, Butch's five years as a Badger have been an up-and-down journey, one that has included scrutiny and success, pain and perseverance, frustration and fun.

And it's also been a college career that can unquestionably be considered a success.

Butch will go down as one of the winningest players in school history, a student-athlete who has been productive both in the classroom (he's on track to earn a master's degree in life sciences communication this spring) and on the basketball court (he's one of eight players in UW history with more than 1,000 points and 650 rebounds).

"As the saying goes, merit wins the soul," Badger coach Bo Ryan said. "I think in the end, it's the merit that he'll represent that will get people to understand that he's had a pretty good career."

\ Makings of a player

Brian Butch arrived on Dec. 22, 1984, weighing 8 pounds, 14 ounces. "And then he never stopped growing," his mother, Nancy Butch, said.

As Butch grew up - always a head taller than others his age - he gravitated toward sports, though he was never afraid to try anything - from serving as the Cowardly Lion in his third-grade class' rendition of "The Wizard of Oz," to his singing the song "Duke of Earl" at his sixth-grade graduation.

"Just kind of fun-spirited, fun-loving," Nancy Butch said of her son. "He didn't care if he made a fool of himself, that never bothered him. I always used to kid him when he was kid. I said, 'Brian, you can't get away with anything because everybody notices you.' "

By the time Butch reached eighth grade, basketball had surpassed football and baseball as his favorite sport. At that point, those around him started to take notice of his on-court abilities, and where those talents might one day take him.

"I had a really good middle school coach that kind of changed the way I looked at things," Butch said. "He sat me down and said, 'You have some really good skills and you can do some really good things, and if you keep on working at it, you can be really good.' "No one had ever really sat down and really talked to me about that. I just played because it was a game and I had fun doing it. At that point it kind of opened up my eyes."

That coach was Bill Hanstedt. And that message was delivered after Hanstedt lost to Butch in a game of H-O-R-S-E after practice one day - the first time Hanstedt had been beaten by one of his players in the shooting game.

"First off, I saw 6-3 to 6-5. You just knew he was athletic and he could do something with basketball," Hanstedt said. "You just knew he was going to be a player. ... That might have been about my fifth year of coaching, and I've never had a talent like him or seen a talent like him. He had all the tools."

Greg Hartjes, then the varsity boys basketball coach at Appleton West High School, saw those same things - the size, the shooting touch, the competitive spirit - when watching some of Butch's eighth-grade games at Einstein Middle School.

A year later, the Terrors' downtrodden program, which had gone 4-80 over the previous four seasons, received an immediate boost when Butch arrived from the JV team near the midpoint of the season.

"He was the difference for our team," Hartjes said. "Immediately, we were better."

Butch continued to produce as a sophomore, and several colleges started showing interest. But he really blossomed during a junior season in which he averaged 21.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and led West to the WIAA state tournament on his way to being named the 2001-02 state player of the year by The Associated Press.

Shortly after his junior season ended, Butch delivered a breakout performance on a national scale at an AAU tournament in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Butch was the best big man at the event, outperforming a pair of highly rated recruits - 7-0 Robert Swift of Bakersfield, Calif., and 6-10 Jackie Butler of McComb, Miss. - in head-to-head matchups. At one point during the tournament, Butch was ushered into the North Carolina basketball offices and was offered a scholarship by then-Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty.

"Things took off from there," Butch said. "I had (other) scholarship offers. ... after that they just kind of kept on coming in."

\ A big decision

Hartjes, who taught math at Appleton West at the time, estimates he fielded about 5,000 phone calls and spent two to three hours a day dealing with Butch's recruitment over nearly two years.

"We had an open gym here one time in that window when coaches can observe players, and Roy Williams (then at Kansas) is sitting here and Buzz Peterson from Tennessee was sitting here, Matt Doherty was here, Lute Olson from Arizona was here and (Ryan) was here and maybe (Marquette's) Tom Crean as well," Hartjes said. "Big-time college basketball converged on Appleton West High School."

Eventually, Butch narrowed his list of potential schools to eight: UW, Marquette, Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, Stanford and Iowa.

By late October of his senior year of high school, Butch had trimmed his list to UW, Marquette, North Carolina and Kansas, but was struggling to make a decision. One night, he asked his parents for advice. They refused to give it.

"We had a good little tussle there for a while," said Pete Butch, his father. "He was looking to us for some direction. ... It was his decision and we couldn't do it. He had to make that decision on his own."

A frustrated Butch stormed out of the house and went for a long walk before returning home and going to bed. After school the next day, the Butch family met with Hartjes to hammer out a final decision. About 15 minutes into that session, Butch stood up and declared his intentions: He was going to be a Badger.

"I really thought that I made the best decision for me," said Butch, who publicly announced his decision on Oct. 30, 2002. "And looking back on how everything has gone, I know I made the right decision."

Honors, accolades, McDonald's With his basketball future having been decided, Butch put on another dazzling display as a high school senior.

He again led the Terrors to the state tournament, where he set the event's single-game scoring record - 45 points against Milwaukee Custer in a quarterfinal. Butch earned state player of the year honors from the AP for the second straight year after averaging 22.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.

And that wasn't the only major honor Butch received.

He was chosen as a member of USA Today's 2002-03 All-USA team - along with LeBron James, Luol Deng, Ndudi Ebi and Mustafa Shakur. He also was a first-team Parade All-American.

Butch's crowning honor, however, was being one of 24 high school seniors picked to play in the prestigious McDonald's All-American Game. He was the fourth player in state history to play in the event, and scored six points and pulled down seven rebounds for the West team.

"It was a great honor. Not many kids get to experience it and go through it like I did," said Butch, who along with Xavier's Drew Lavender, Louisville's David Padgett and New Mexico State's J.R. Giddens are the only players from that 2003 McDonald's Game still playing college basketball.

\ Badgered in beginning

Some UW fans viewed Butch - one of the most decorated and ballyhooed boys basketball players in state history - as a savior, a player who would average a double-double the moment he set foot on campus.

So it came as a surprise to many when Butch elected to redshirt his first season in order to gain weight and get stronger - a decision derided by those with otherworldly expectations.

The negative e-mails arrived in Butch's inbox. Hurtful words were left on his voice mail. He was even heckled by fellow students while walking to class.

"As a college freshman, you're worried about trying to get adjusted, and you have people doubting what you can do already, and you haven't even had a chance to prove what you can do," Butch said. "I guess that comes with the territory."

Butch, however, found himself back on familiar ground - the basketball court - a year later when, as a redshirt freshman, he was a contributor (3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game) on a Badgers team that reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

But all was not always right in Butch's world on or off the court that season.

He learned his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a bout of mononucleosis forced him to miss six games. Additionally, Butch was dubbed as the most overrated player in the Big Ten Conference by ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb.

"I was pretty darn angry for a couple of years about how he was being treated," Hartjes said. "He simply was just a kid who plays basketball. He worked hard, didn't ask anybody to name him an All-American. ... At times I thought, 'Was that a curse to be a McDonald's All-American?' "That's been tough for me to sit and listen to. There's been plenty of talk shows on the radio, even locally, where I've wanted to call in and say, 'Listen, you don't know what you're talking about.' "

No matter what's been said to him or about him, Butch never has let it get the best of him.

"Of all the people that have criticized (me), I'm harder on myself than anybody, so that doesn't mean anything to me," Butch said. "You have people saying what Gottlieb said and things like that, and that's fine, because I'm harder on myself than anybody."

Butch showed marked improvement as a sophomore, averaging 9.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he received another moniker from an ESPN analyst when Steve Lavin nicknamed him the "Polar Bear."

As a junior last season, Butch was the leading rebounder (5.9) and third-leading scorer (8.8 ppg) for a UW team that won a school-record 30 games, achieved the first No. 1 ranking in school history and earned the highest NCAA tournament seed (No. 2) in school history.

His season, though, was cut short after he suffered a gruesome dislocated right elbow after a fall to the floor in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Butch was forced to sit out the Badgers' final six games, and could only watch from the bench as UW's lofty NCAA tournament aspirations came crashing down with a second-round loss to UNLV.

"It hasn't been without trial and tribulation," Nancy Butch said. "He's learned how to persevere through a lot of different situations."

\ Senior send-off

Butch's perseverance had paid off with the type of senior season most players can only dream of.

"I think he's having his best year, which is what you really like to see happen, especially to a fifth-year senior, someone that has kind of persevered through not only growth in self - emotionally, mentally, physically - but also growth with his body," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

"I think he's grown like a college guy should grow, and like a lot of big guys do. ... I always love guys that have battled both hype and injuries. ... And now his senior year, he's the one coming out on top. And I think he deserves a lot of credit for that."

Butch changed his diet after last season, dropping down to a more comfortable 235 pounds. He's worked hard on his stamina and footwork, something that's been reflected in his career-high, 24.4-minute per game average.

He's also put up career-best numbers this season - 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game - and is on track to be the fourth player since 1990 to lead the Badgers in both scoring and rebounding in a season.

Last week, Butch was named a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick by both the league's media and coaches.

"Brian, in my mind, is one of the poster boys for patience," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "He's had an outstanding college career. And for those that wanted everything on the first day, go see (Kansas State's) Michael Beasley play. But for people who understand players develop at different rates ... Brian had the development of a really good player, the normal maturation of a really good player. He's had that type of season, he's had that type of career and he's been a vital part of winning teams."

Winning is something Butch knows plenty about. He's been around for 103 victories over the past four seasons, the winningest such span in school history. So far this season, he's helped lead the Badgers to 29 victories, an undisputed Big Ten regular-season title and last weekend's Big Ten tournament title.

"It wasn't an easy road, but you just take a big, deep breath and you realize you did something, you finally did what you wanted to do since you've been here," Butch said.

Butch's to-do list as a Badger still has one important item left on it - another deep NCAA tournament run.

"I've just always wanted to win," Butch said. "That's all I care about."

And as his career winds down, Butch has won over plenty of people, the surest sign things have come full circle since his arrival in Madison.

"I was walking from class to my car (last week)," he said, "and there was a group of freshmen that walked by and said, 'Yeah, Butch.' "

You don't need a trip to Appleton to know that he's maxed out the Butch-O-Meter, on and off the court.

"When you send a child off to college, you wonder what's going to happen," Nancy Butch said. "You wonder what kind of person they're going to be at the end of that journey. I think he's a good person, and to me that's more important than being a good basketball player."

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