Senior Noah Butler hopes to lead Free State boys back to state tournament

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State's Noah Butler (5) goes up for the layup has Olathe North's Elijah Williams (5) watches on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 at FSHS.

Senior Noah Butler is the only current Free State player that scored during the state championship game last season.

If the Firebirds (13-6, No. 10 in Class 6A) hope to avenge last year’s loss to Blue Valley Northwest, Butler will likely have to shoulder the load this postseason. Plenty of FSHS players will get their first taste of postseason basketball this week, as the program seeks its third consecutive trip to the 6A state tournament.

“I was a little nervous my first time (in the postseason),” Butler said. “I feel like they are going to be fine, they are just going to have a little bit of nerves for the first few minutes. After that, they are just going to play basketball.”

Although most of the Firebirds have not played meaningful minutes in the postseason, a majority of them know what it takes to win these types of games.

Juniors DK Middleton and Turner Corcoran both appeared in the state championship last year, and have handled bigger roles this season. Freshman point guard Mozae Downing has already played a number of important games in his basketball career.

Even players like Ethan Lincoln, Andrew Piper, Ryan Stacey, Olin Yoder and Dash Cleveland have been a part of this program for multiple seasons now.

“We don’t have a lot of postseason experience in terms of our 12-deep roster,” FSHS coach Sam Stroh said. “But we have been to two straight tournaments, we have won the league a couple years in a row. In terms of scout team, and how practice works, they have been a part of that for a long time. Hopefully, it will pay off in the postseason.”

Still, Butler will likely be the focal point of Free State’s offensive attack in the final set of games of his high school career.

Butler has handled being the go-to option this season. The Firebirds will play resilient defense to keep contests low-scoring, while letting Butler serve as the primary scorer on the offensive end. Butler will power his way to the bucket, getting to the rim with deliberate drives.

“I’m proud of how far he has come as a person and a player,” Stroh said. “The biggest thing with Noah is being coachable. When he got here, I told him I was going to coach him hard. I think he’s done a good job of being coachable and being a good teammate.”

Butler’s ability to handle his role in his senior campaign is no surprise, especially given the fact that he’s been preparing for this moment all his life.

Ever since he was little, Butler has always had a basketball in his hand. He played soccer and baseball before electing to focus strictly on basketball in sixth grade in hopes of playing at the collegiate level.

Now, Butler plays the sport year-round. He plans to take a week or two off after the season, and he usually takes a week break every three months to give his body some rest.

“Basketball has always been my first love,” Butler said. “My uncle told me if I wanted to make it to the next level, then I’d have to make basketball a priority.”

Butler has done that, and has all the makings of someone capable of playing hoops at the collegiate level.

Before that, though, Butler hopes to make the most of his final games as a Firebird. Free State will play host to Junction City at 7 p.m. Wednesday. With a win, FSHS would likely travel to Topeka High (No. 4 in Class 6A) for the sub-state championship.

“I’m just trying to show these young guys that, with hard work, anything can happen,” Butler said. “My uncle (Aaron Butler) won a state title at LHS in 1995, and my mom (Julia Butler) won a state title at Lawrence High, too. I’m just trying to bring one home.”

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