North Side grad making quick impact with DePaul basketball

DePaul forward Jaylen Butz, left, attempts to get around Xavier forward Kaiser Gates (22) during the second half of a recent game in Cincinnati. Xavier won 77-72. (By The Associated Press)
DePaul men's basketball coach Dave Leitao applauds during the first half of a recent game against Villanova in Chicago. (By The Associated Press)
DePaul forward Jaylen Butz, right, goes up for a shot against Central Connecticut State forward Mustafa Jones during the second half of a game earlier this season in Chicago. DePaul won 85-57. (By The Associated Press)

With five losses in six Big East games, the best for DePaul basketball lies not necessarily in the present, but in the future, as third-year Blue Demon coach Dave Leitao rebuilds this program for a second time in his career.

A big piece of that brighter future, both literally and figuratively, is freshman center Jaylen Butz.

DePaul (8-10, 1-5 Big East) will host Butler (13-7, 3-4) Saturday at 2 p.m. at the new Wintrust Arena (FS1).

The 6-foot-9 post out of North Side High School has made an immediate impact for DePaul this season and Leitao couldn’t be more thrilled with his early contributions.

“Jaylen is somebody that I really, really love as a person, first and foremost,” Leitao told recently, “and then as a basketball player and an athlete.”

Butz wasted absolutely no time in showing that he can play at this level.

In the Blue Demons’ 72-58 season-opening loss to then-ranked No. 14 Notre Dame, Leitao used Butz for 15 minutes and he grabbed five rebounds.

Throughout this season, Leitao said Butz has been “in minutes played, he’s been by far our best rebounder.”

Butz took that specific skill to an entirely other level in his second game, as he pulled down 13 rebounds and scored seven points in just 17 minutes played in a rout of Delaware State. It was the highest amount of boards grabbed by a Blue Demon player in four years.

“He started off,” Leitao explained, “and has been, a very energized guy coming off of the bench. He provides a spark, particularly from a defense and rebounding standpoint.”

Butz and Villanova’s Omari Spellman are the only two freshmen in the conference to be among the top rebounders, and the fact that Butz is one of this program’s best rebounders, is even more impressive, because the Blue Demons rebound the ball at an exceptional rate.

DePaul leads the Big East in offensive rebounds (12.8 per game) and in league play, it is the best overall rebounding team (42.8 per game).

The Blue Demons are outrebounding opponents by over seven per game, with Butz (5.2 per game) playing a significant role in that accomplishment.

“He is quick off of his feet,” Leitao said of Butz. “He has good hands and good feet. As he learns and grows, and gets more comfortable playing college basketball and in our system, then he’ll contribute more and more.”

That hasn’t been the trend of late, however.

After playing double-figure minutes in 13 of DePaul’s initial 14 games, Butz has averaged just seven minutes in his last three outings. He didn’t play at all in the Blue Demons’ loss at Marquette Monday due to illness, but is expected to play Saturday against the Bulldogs.

However, Butz still managed to be effective, despite the limited time. He grabbed 13 rebounds in those 21 minutes.

Leitao started Butz in three games, but in the other 14 that he has played, Butz has come off of the bench behind fifth-year senior center Marin Maric. This has allowed Butz to gradually learn how to adapt to the college game.

“Having to play sometimes alongside, but most of the time, behind Marin,” Leitao explained, “sometimes that doesn’t give him the minutes that could help him grow, but at the same time, I have a lot of admiration for Jaylen and I think that he’s going to have a great career here at DePaul.”

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