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Hard work paying off for Butler

A year from now when Marjorie Butler is in the thick of her first year of medical school, she's going to need an outlet for all that stress. And back to the hardwood she'll go, making one heck of an intramural basketball teammate.

"Literally every interview that I have been on [at medical schools], they have recruited me for the intramural team," Barber said with a laugh Tuesday.

The Georgia women's basketball team's senior point guard has her heart and soul in closing out this season and her Lady Bulldog career as well as she possibly can. Watch her on the court for two minutes and you can see that she plays like every moment on the floor might be her last.

"I've had a lot of injuries and so for a while I kind of played more reserved because my body just wasn't letting me do what I wanted to do," said Butler, who has started every game this season for the Lady Dogs. "I think I'm to the point now, I play through a lot of pain and it's kind of like you accept the hand that you're dealt and make the most of it.

"I just try to leave it all out there and, I mean, I've got a couple of weeks left of basketball ... and then I'm done playing ball, so I'm not really worried about my injuries carrying over to playing in the future."

Georgia (18-6, 6-5 SEC) has four games left in the regular season, starting Sunday at LSU. The Lady Dogs' final two home games are Feb. 21 against Florida and Feb. 25 against Arkansas on Senior Night.

What's fun about watching the Knoxville, Tenn., native play is that while she's playing as hard or harder than anyone else on the court, she also seems to be having the most fun. Butler wants to win every moment of every game, but she's also aware that it is still a game.

That's why she might try a between-the-legs pass on a fast break, like she did against Ole Miss.

"That one didn't turn out too well," she said of the play that resulted in one of her two turnovers in the game, to go along with six points and nine assists.

Or there was the backdoor lob pass to Shacobia Barbee for an easy lay-up. It was a perfectly executed play that was fun to do, yes, but also the result of a lot of practice, Butler said.

"The thing about that play is it's a complete trust play," she said. "I have to throw that pass before she ever leaves the ground. I'm throwing it trusting that she's able to get up in the air and get that pass, and trusting that everybody else is doing what they're supposed to do while the ball is in the air."

Butler has been playing this game for many years and she's determined to end her playing days - medical school intramural squads aside - with fond memories of fun times on the court with her teammates.

"I think especially as a senior, and part of it you can give credit to Coach Joni [Taylor] for the really positive environment we've been around lately, but when you get into your senior year you realize, this is coming to an end and this is almost over," she said.

Butler is having fun, yes, and she's also having the best season of her career. She's averaging 5.3 points per game (6.3 in SEC play), 4.4 assists per game, 3.0 rebounds a game - all career highs - and she has 33 steals.

"You can definitely tell that she loves playing and it's something that she works really hard at," fellow senior Merritt Hempe said. "And since freshman year to senior year I've seen her get better at it, so it's been a really cool transition."

On the court it's all focus and enjoying the game and flying after every loose ball, but off it her mind is directed toward her future. She already has one degree, in exercise science, and she'll wrap up a biology degree in May, and then it's off to med school.

On Monday, the day after helping Georgia comfortably dispatch Ole Miss, Butler was in Atlanta interviewing at Emory School of Medicine. On Thursday she was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) District 4 All-Academic Team and is now a finalist for the Academic All-America program

Butler already has been accepted to med school at some heavyweight institutions - Vanderbilt, Florida, Virginia, Morehouse, Tennessee among them - and Vandy and Florida have offered her full scholarships, she said.

Getting a full scholarship for sports is very special but, in terms of numbers, rather routine. Georgia alone has hundreds of Bulldogs on scholarship, there are thousands in the SEC and the number grows exponentially when you figure all levels of the NCAA.

"But medical school? Especially when you get to state schools and things like that, getting scholarships is very difficult and a hard thing to do," Butler said. "I'm very humbled. When I got accepted to Florida, my mind was blown. ... I went to Vanderbilt on my interview and there were eight students there. Four of them were from Harvard or Yale, one from UC-Berkeley, and it was just humbling to be around those people and that caliber of person."

Spend any time with Butler and you know she belongs in that company. Between pursuing two degrees, playing SEC basketball and also the time she had to spend preparing for the MCAT and applying to med schools, Butler's past year or two has been beyond demanding.

"There were definitely days where I'd see her staying up late to study and getting up early to study and going to practice and going full speed and going home," Hemps said, "and it's like, jeez, I got my full rest and sleep and I'm still tired. That's why I think she's been so successful, is she's figured out how to get herself in that routine and work through all those things."

Now she just has to finish strong with the Lady Dogs and, no small thing, figure out in the weeks ahead where she wants to attend med school. She's being recruited by med schools kind of like she was as a star high school basketball player. Being recruited by different med schools is "so much more flattering," she said.

When Georgia played at Florida last month, she said, the UF School of Medicine's "entire admissions staff came to the game and watched me play, which was so neat." The same thing might happen when Georgia wraps up its regular season at Tennessee on Feb. 28.

"It's a great feeling," she said, "to know that everything I went through, all the hard work, it's really paying off."