CLEMSON — Thirty years ago, when she was a 16-year-old in high school, Amanda Butler arrived on the Clemson campus for an exposure event at Shep Levine's All Star camp. A native of Tennessee, the young Butler was instantly drawn to one feature of the university's campus.
"The thing I remember the most about that (weekend) was not the competition, not the long drive from Mount Juliet (Tenn.), but it was those big orange paw prints on the street," Butler said Friday. "We were taking pictures in the middle of the big orange paw prints.
"I was amazed. I'd never seen anything like that, but I knew it was an indicator that this place is special. This place is neat."
On Friday, three decades later, Butler drove by those same paw prints as she entered Clemson's campus, but this time as a 46-year-old employee of the university. Clemson's Board of Trustees officially approved the hiring of Butler as the seventh head coach of the Clemson women's basketball program Thursday, and in her introductory press conference Friday, the former Florida coach spoke of how grateful she feels to be back in coaching after Florida released her in March of 2017.
Donning what she calls her now-new favorite suit, Butler had gone on a quick shopping spree before Friday for an orange suit with a purple blouse. Her finger nails were painted orange, her toe nails were purple and her family was in attendance for her big day as she comes to Clemson by way of a decade-long stint in Gainesville, Fla.
Checking all of the boxes in her opening statement, Butler said the right things to her new players and her new fan base about shifting the culture of a women's basketball program that is in desperate need of some life. The Tigers went 9-70 in ACC play over the last five years, and given that Butler inherited a Florida team that had gone 9-22 prior to her first season in 2007-08 with the Gators, she feels prepared to help Clemson in the post Audra Smith era.
The Tigers will play a brand of basketball that is fast with an emphasis on aggressive defense. Butler met her new players at a 6 a.m. weightlifting workout Friday and immediately told them she would be intense.
But perhaps the highest priority on Butler's list is to get a handle on recruiting in the Palmetto State. Butler is more than aware of the challenge South Carolina and Dawn Staley present. She and Staley know each other and have a relationship from her days in the SEC. What Staley has been able to do with her own program, Butler said, is good for the state of South Carolina and proves that the highest level of women's basketball is right here.
"We’re going to have to guard our yard. We’ve got to keep the best players in this area at this university," Butler said. (That's) something that’s not going to be easy, but it's definitely something that’s going to be part of our pursuit and it’s going to be well worth the energy invested."
During her year away from the game, Butler spent time studying basketball on a deeper level and traveled all over the country to pick other coaches' brains. She went to Oklahoma City, where good friend and former Florida coach Billy Donovan runs the show with the Thunder. She spent time with Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics, Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons and Geno Auriemma's perennial powerhouse Connecticut team.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said what drew him to Butler were her 10 seasons of experience at Florida and her attitude when she had a setback.
"It shows the resolve to use the time after a disappointment to grow and to prepare for what’s next," Radakovich said.
Butler will make $350,000 in her first season with an additional $2,000 per ACC win up to $16,000.