Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – You can't blame the MacEwan Griffins for initially seeing Atlas St. Paul-Butler as a future inside threat for their team.
Standing 6-foot-6, he regularly manned the middle for his Victoria, B.C.-based Oak Bay high school basketball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the province.
That was enough for Griffins men's basketball head coach Eric Magdanz to touch base about coming to Edmonton. He had no idea at the time that he was also getting a guy who has a silky-smooth shooting touch from the perimeter.
"In high school, because we didn't have any bigger players on my team, I always kind of played the 5," St. Paul-Butler said. "It wasn't really until I came out here and had the opportunity to play on the perimeter that I've been shooting more consistently.
"It's been something that's new at MacEwan, but it's always been something I've worked on."
This season, the third-year forward has blossomed into one of the biggest threats from behind the arc on the Griffins, making 40 per cent of his treys (10 of 25) so far. Only Ryan Coleman has a better percentage on the team (66.7), but he's only attempted three shots.
St. Paul-Butler will lead the Griffins (3-9) into action against Mount Royal University (6-6) this weekend (Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m., both at Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).
"He's a player who's sort of adapted his game throughout his career here," said Magdanz. "He kind of came in as someone who played strictly close to the basket and he's really expanded his game towards the perimeter to become one of our best three-point shooters.
"Over his first two years, he had to play behind some older players and his playing time was limited, but he did a good job of preparing himself and getting himself ready. When the opportunity arose this year, he was ready to take advantage of it."
St. Paul-Butler saw limited action off the bench last season behind a veteran cast of starters, who have since graduated. One of those was Keith Gerdes, who had the height to play inside but was a deadly a three-point shooter, too. In many ways, St. Paul-Butler is filling those shoes now.
"I played against him all the time (in practice) and he's an amazing shooter," he said. "I do play quite a bit like him now, I guess. It was cool to get to play against him. He hit a lot of threes in my face, so it made me get in the gym and get better."
That truly is the best way to get better at draining shots – spend hours in the gym shooting over and over. What St. Paul-Butler likes about the Griffins is their commitment to doing that.
"The cool thing about our team is we're all in the gym shooting almost every day," he said. "You see all your teammates. You don't even have to text them. You just go to shoot and they'll be there.
"I think it's a pretty good culture – working on our game, trying to get better."
Their hard work showed signs of paying off during a first-half stretch against Saskatchewan last Friday when they hit at 71 per cent from behind the arc. St. Paul-Butler was among six Griffins who bucketed at least one trey in going 12-for-17 to build a 33-point lead.
They won the contest even though they couldn't keep the hot shooting rolling, but that sag crept into their game a night later and they suffered an 82-67 defeat.
Magdanz will be looking for a response six days later when the Griffins entertain the Cougars, a team they are trying to catch for a playoff spot.
"We're looking for a level of compete with our team," he said. "Mount Royal plays hard, they play physical, they play aggressive, they really like to get out into transition.
"In order for us to be able to contain them and have an opportunity to win a couple of games here, we need to be the aggressors and focus on the little details to make sure we're putting ourselves in positions to succeed."
St. Paul-Butler, not just a three-point shooter, will be key to that effort. He gives the Griffins plenty of tough minutes, too, as evidenced by the elbow he took to the face against Saskatchewan last Saturday.
"He was a great rebounder (in high school), he had a good presence inside," said Magdanz. "That was our original thought for him, but as we got to know him better and saw that his skill-set was a little bit more diverse than what he was able to show in high school, we expanded our plans for him.
"The great part about him right now is he can play a multitude of positions for us and help us in a lot of different scenarios."