George Mason University

News at Mason

Basketball star found what she needed at Mason—on the court and in the classroom

January 17, 2018   /   by Damian Cristodero

In discussing what she hopes will be her career arc, Natalie Butler put playing professional basketball in the United States or Europe at the top of her list.

But George Mason University’s star center also knows she needs a Plan B.

“You have to keep the big picture in mind,” she said. “One day, basketball is not going to be there. You have to have a life plan.”

That is a big reason why Butler said she enrolled in George Mason’s global affairs master’s program when she transferred last summer from the University of Connecticut.

Fluent in German thanks to 10 years of study before college, Butler—who graduated from Connecticut with a communication degree, and whose master’s concentration is in global governance and public management—sees herself working in government or as an international consultant.

With a classroom work ethic that matches what she brings to the court, the sky is the limit as to what Butler can accomplish academically, said Lisa Breglia, director of Mason’s Global Affairs Program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“Natalie is extremely self-motivated,” Breglia said. “She is engaged, curious and eager to get out there in the world.”

Natalie Butler in the basketball practice facility at Mason. Photo by Ron Aira.

Butler had other considerations when deciding where to continue her education.

The Fairfax Station, Va., native wanted to be close to home and play her final college season in a strong program. After conversations with Mason coach Nyla Milleson, she was convinced.

“Coach Milleson is incredible,” said Butler, whose father, Vernon, played next to NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson at Navy, and helped lead the Midshipmen to the 1986 NCAA Elite Eight. “She’s a huge part of why I came to the program as well.”

The 6-foot-5 Butler, who was part of Connecticut’s 2016 NCAA championship team, has flourished at Mason with an average 18.2 points and a Division I-leading 15.2 rebounds (almost two more than any other player) through the team’s first 18 games. She also has been named Atlantic 10 Player of the Week five times.

“We knew she was going to be an impact player,” Milleson said. “The maturity she brings, the experience, the culture, it’s not just basketball. That’s how she lives her life, with discipline and maturity.”

Butler needs that to manage her course load along with her demanding basketball schedule, a focus she said that was honed by her upbringing in which basketball was a reward for doing one’s chores and homework.

Mason’s faculty helps, too, she said.

“They are willing to work with you whenever you reach out to them,” Butler said. “They really want you to succeed, and as a student you want to absorb as much as you can from them.”

After all, life isn’t all about bouncing a basketball.

“At the end of the day,” Butler said, “it’s you putting in the work, so later on you can have a career and a successful life.”