Before he dreamed of being an NFL quarterback, Tony Romo dreamed of playing in the NBA.
Romo will be "a Maverick for a day" as the team's tribute to the longtime Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who made his move to CBS as the NFL's lead analyst last week. What that exactly means remains murky beyond the Mavericks' plans, according to sources, to have Romo in uniform on the bench and participating in layup line.
But one former Maverick knows Romo's basketball abilities better than most.
"Believe it or not, man, when we were in the prime of our careers, I used to always talk about it: [Romo] could have easily been a professional basketball player," Caron Butler told ESPN. "And a lot of people were like, 'Man, you're crazy for saying that,' but Tony could shoot. He could handle the ball. He had a knack for scoring, man, he really did.
"He was a really good football player, obviously, being a quarterback. He was great at golf. And he was really good at basketball. Obviously it worked out for him with the football, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he would have made it playing basketball. He had a great feel for the game, man. And it's not surprising. Golf is a cerebral game; you gotta have that mental component to conquer the course. And then football's the same thing; you gotta be able to think on the fly and do all these things. And then basketball, I thought, all those components worked together."
In 1998, Butler and Romo were two-fifths of the All-Racine County (Wisconsin) boys' basketball team. Butler starred at Racine Park High School, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds before moving on to UConn and a 14-year NBA career with nine teams. Romo played at Burlington High School, averaging 24.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game before moving on to Eastern Illinois and a 14-year career with the Cowboys.
Romo was recruited by a few mid-major basketball schools, such as Wisconsin-Green Bay, but he had already committed to Eastern Illinois for football.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hinted recently his team would add a "pass-first point guard" down the stretch, but nobody knew he was talking about Romo.
All kidding aside, Romo wasn't a pass-first point guard in high school. He remains the all-time leading scorer in Burlington history with 1,080 points; however, his record could be broken next season by Nick Klug.
"Quite honestly, his thing was filling the entire stat sheet," his high school coach Steve Berezowitz said. "He was just a quiet player. He had seven threes in one game, but it wasn't like he scored in one way. All of a sudden you would look in the book and he had his 25 points, eight or nine rebounds, seven or eight assists and because he had such great hands he also averaged over five steals his senior here. He completely filled the stat sheet. He did that with a group that wasn't incredibly skilled, so he had to basically do every part of the game for us to be successful."
Berezowitz said what made Romo great was also one of his best attributes as a quarterback: his vision.
"It seemed like he never forced anything," Berezowitz said. "Never forced a bad shot because he was always in control and he saw what was going on around him. That's what separated him from everybody else. When I first met him, this one-day contract or whatever it is would fulfill his dreams. Most kids dream of an NFL career, but for a long time this is something he wanted to do, so I'm sure it will be a pretty good experience for him."
Butler and Romo played against each other just once, with Racine Park winning 72-42. Butler scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. Romo scored 12 points.
In Butler's time with the Mavericks, he and Romo were able to speak a few times. They have exchanged text messages since Romo's move to CBS.
"He's in a good place," Butler said. "He's feeling good about everything, and I'm happy for him."
He will also be happy seeing Romo on the bench, and he does not agree with those who have a problem with what Cuban will do.
"Wouldn't it be special to see one of your favorite athletes running up and down on the basketball court who played football? Out of the spirit of competition, nothing's really at stake at right now. So now we're doing what we do best [in the NBA] and that's entertainment," Butler said. "To see Tony Romo on the sideline and Mark Cuban and that interaction and a future Hall of Famer in Dirk [Nowitzki] as his teammate ... it's going to be special, man. And I wouldn't be surprised -- this is a copycat game -- so I wouldn't be surprised if you see it happen going forward with other teams that's out of [playoff contention] and want to add a little more to it."