Alumnus Still Making Big Assists as Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach

Esteban Bustillos, managing editor of The Mercury — the student newspaper at UT Dallas — wrote this article.

Travis Carruthers

Travis Carruthers has spent the past eight seasons as an assistant coach for the UT Dallas men’s basketball team. As a player, Carruthers set Comet career records for most assists, assists per game and highest free-throw percentage. (Photo by Arun Prasath/The Mercury Contributor)

It was the start of the 2007-08 season, and the UT Dallas men’s basketball team had traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., to play in a tournament. Assistant coach Travis Carruthers, on the sidelines for the first time, didn’t have any dress shoes.

With no other choice, he opted to wear a pair of khakis, a sport coat and crocodile-skin cowboy boots as the outfit for his professional debut.

As he walked onto the court during pregame warm-ups, head coach Terry Butterfield got a chance to react to his assistant’s wardrobe for the first time.

“I remember walking on the court, and [Butterfield] stops on the way to the bench while our team is about to warm up and he goes, ‘Did you really wear cowboy boots?’ ” Carruthers said. “And I kind of chuckled and was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘Don’t do it again.’ ”

Carruthers, now in his eighth year of coaching for the Comets, has come a long way since the early days of his career. Before his days as a coach, he spent his time setting records for the Comets.

As a player, Carruthers BA'07 set career marks for assists (411), assists per game (4.3) and free-throw percentage (.878). Although Carruthers found success, Butterfield said he first thought that Carruthers wouldn’t have a big impact on the team.

“His strength was an issue initially,” Butterfield said. “He basically sat the entire first year on the bench and really didn’t get much of an opportunity at all, maybe some mop-up minutes here and there.”

Butterfield told Carruthers that he had to be more physical because he wasn’t quick or fast enough. After that first season, he spent his entire summer in the weight room and in the gym working on getting bigger.

“My buddies were out going to the lake and doing fun things, and they would call me and I would say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to work out after work,’ ” he said. “I would work all day, and I would go and spend time in the gym and spend time in the weight room, because I had a passion for it. I had a passion, and I had a goal in mind that I wanted to play and I wanted to be a difference maker.”

He’s a great sounding board. If I say ‘I think it’s this way.’ If he doesn’t believe it, then he’s going to tell me, ‘I don’t agree with you.’ The primary goal of the assistant coach is to assist the head coach, and he does that beautifully. 

Terry Butterfield,
UT Dallas men's basketball coach

In the 2004-05 season, his second with the team, he still wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, but that changed after Butterfield became frustrated with the play of his point guards. He decided to start Carruthers out of desperation, Butterfield said.

It paid off for the Comets as Carruthers led the team in assists, helping UT Dallas earn its first ASC championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Carruthers said he always had an eye for passing the ball.

“Me — as a person and as a player — I think they mimic each other,” he said. “I really enjoy the success of others if I have a hand in it.”

As his playing days came to a close, Carruthers knew he wanted to be a coach, something he decided when he was a freshman in high school. He went to school with the intention of getting a teaching certificate and coaching at the high school level.

That all changed in the summer after his last season. While Carruthers was working at the Activity Center and helping with basketball camps, Butterfield offered him a job as his assistant.

“That was the first moment that I had ever even thought of being a college coach,” Carruthers said. “It had never even entered my mind.”

He had to learn several important details of the job on the fly. Mainly, he had to learn the importance of the distance a coach has to have with a player.

“The first thing that [Butterfield] told me was ‘If you’re going to do this, you were teammates with these guys, you were social with these guys … you’ve got to be able to separate that now,’ ” he said. “ ‘You cannot be social with them. You can be friends with them, but it’s to an extent.’ ”

Men's Schedule

As of Friday, the UT Dallas men's basketball team had a 10-4 record, including 5-4 in American Southwest Conference play. Here are the upcoming home games for the Comets.

7:30 p.m. – UT Tyler

Saturday, Jan. 24
3 p.m. – Ozarks

Thursday, Feb. 5
7:30 p.m. – Louisiana College

Thursday, Feb. 19
7:30 p.m. – Mary Hardin-Baylor

Saturday, Feb. 21 (Senior Day)
3 p.m. – Concordia

Carruthers said he also had to learn the ins and outs of recruiting — something he initially had no idea how to do. But it has become the one aspect of the job that he cherishes more than anything.

“I really love recruiting because I really know what [Butterfield] wants from a player,” he said. “And I’ve got to go and find those qualities in a player and in a person and see if UT Dallas is a valid option and go about getting them here.”

As head of recruiting, Carruthers has found players such as Kyle Schleigh, who graduated last spring as the program’s all-time leading scorer.

More importantly for Butterfield, Carruthers hasn’t simply agreed with him on every decision.

“He’s a great sounding board,” Butterfield said. “If I say ‘I think it’s this way.’ If he doesn’t believe it, then he’s going to tell me, ‘I don’t agree with you.’ The primary goal of the assistant coach is to assist the head coach, and he does that beautifully.”

Carruthers said he aspires to be a head coach one day, something Butterfield thinks will happen.

“I know that once he gets a chance to take hold of a program, everybody better watch out,” Butterfield said. “I tell him all the time, ‘We’ve got to get you out of here, for your own personal, professional development. But I’m going to be crying the whole way.’ 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].