It's a good thing Brianna Butler didn't start school until well into September because the 5-foot-11 guard from Philadelphia had a lot to do between the end of summer hoops and the start of her junior year at William Penn Charter School. And none of it had anything to do with basketball.
"She has three books to read before school starts, so this little break has been good for her," Mitzi Mitchell, Butler's mom, said, with a laugh.
It was a well-deserved break, for sure.
For the second consecutive summer Butler and Mitchell spent hours and hours in the car driving from Philadelphia to New York City. At minimum it's a two-hour trip but Butler says there are days they've been stuck in the car for four hours. And that's just one way.
But it is a small sacrifice to make in order for Butler to play with Exodus NYC, one of the premier teams in the Big Apple.
After spending three summers with the Philly Belles, Butler decided she wanted to stretch herself and get outside her comfort zone. She was "looking for a new challenge" according to Mitchell. Butler had played one tournament with Exodus and enjoyed being pushed by the likes of Bria Hartley and Jennifer O'Neill, two former Exodus superstars who will suit up for Connecticut and Kentucky, respectively, this season.
"The opportunity to play with Bria and Jennifer and all those players was so good, and so I decided to go with them," Butler said, explaining that she parted amicably with the Belles.
The change would come with an added commute, which would turn off some parents. But Mitchell, a mother of three, had a different attitude.
"Because I really feel that when you have kids you need to give them every opportunity, when Brianna decided she wanted to go ahead and play with Exodus, I felt we needed to do it," Mitchell said. "When she was ready to take a step outside her comfort zone that's when I knew she had matured, and she really wanted this."
Many days, Mitchell and Butler have to leave their Philadelphia home at 5 a.m. in order to make it to New York in time for practice. Butler, who doesn't have her license yet, spends the morning drive sleeping but awakes when it's game time. A basketball junkie -- she gave up playing field hockey when she entered high school to focus solely on hoops -- Butler said she considered moving to New York permanently to play with Exodus kids during the school year, but decided she wanted to stay in Philadelphia and help build her high school into a better program.
For one of the top players in the 2012 class -- Butler is ranked No. 8 by ESPN HoopGurlz -- the move to Exodus has been more than beneficial.
If there is one word to describe Butler's game it probably would be "smooth." The guard is right-handed but goes to her left as well, if not better, than almost every other player in the country. She can play the one or two, can shoot deep or pull up, and knows when to score versus when to distribute. Butler says that playing with Exodus has forced her to learn how to score more, instead of just being a reliable defender.
"Before I was a defensive player and I would guard the other team's best player," Butler explained. "Now I get to be one of those players for other teams, the one they have to focus on defensively."
But more than anything, Mitchell says that joining Exodus has been great for Butler's confidence.
"They embraced her and she embraced them," Mitchell said. "It gave her swagger, which she didn't have before."
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