Marquette’s Buzz Williams Runs Silent and DeepPosted by CNguon on February 23rd, 2013
Joseph Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after spending an evening keeping a close eye on Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.
Why does Marquette, a school about to earn consecutive NCAA bid #8, still struggle to secure a spot in the national limelight? Part of the answer is no doubt rooted in their coach. Buzz Williams, 5’11” with that North Texas drawl, is hardly a presence at Media Day confabs. Unlike Marquette’s legendary Al McGuire, whose height and New York City accent (and ever so slightly too-loud voice) could turn heads and draw ears. Tom Crean, Marquette’s 15th head coach, came with all of the pedigree expected to head a National Championship, two-time Final Four program with 21 bids and previously headed by legends like McGuire, Hank Raymond and Rick Majerus. When he departed Marquette to rebuild a struggling Indiana program, Crean left Williams (head coach #16) with a cupboard full of prep school ballers. Harvested from some of the best recruiting seed beds on the East Coast and Midwest, these players earned Marquette (and Crean) notoriety in basketball circles even before taking their first shot in the Bradley Center. Williams spent his first two off seasons recruiting a raft of unknown players from junior colleges throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Williams sustained the momentum established by Crean with junior college players like Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Joe Fulce, Jimmy Butler and Jai Crowder, who rounded out the nucleus that included Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward bequeathed to him by Crean. The mix-n-match crew garnered Williams 47 wins and a pair of NCAA bids in his first two seasons. And in the course of his first three off-seasons Williams has found what Crean could not — not one but two low post players good enough to move the tweeners out of the rotation. Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have helped Marquette earn another 49 (and counting) wins in seasons #3 and #4. This season the win count is 16 and climbing. The Golden Eagles’ 10 conference wins put them in a three-way tie for first place in Big East conference play, but co-leaders Georgetown and Syracuse have drawn greater national recognition for their seasons.
About four minutes into the Seton Hall-Marquette postgame press conference last Tuesday (Marquette won the game, 67-46), the assembled media had acclimated to Williams’ cadence. Marquette’s head coach spoke in the gentle tone that complements the drawl he acquired while growing up in dusty Van Alstyne, Texas, a town of 2,500 just south of the Oklahoma border. A Milwaukee stringer shifted the line of questions from why Gardiner was still coming in off the bench (“Because he doesn’t deserve to start. Chris Otule is the best practice player I have ever coached. He shows up every day. He is ready to work.”) to the Golden Eagles’ junior off guard Vander Blue:
- Question: Coach, do you think Vander is gonna get some… maybe some attention for Player of the Year?
- Answer: Zero.
- Q: None?
- A: I would be extremely shocked if he was even an all-conference player.
- Q: None at all!?
- A: Maybe second team? Since we’ve been here [Williams’ coaching tenure at Marquette] we’ve only had three first team all-conference players. Jerel [McNeal] was lead scorer for Marquette (all-time record holder with 1,985 points), D.J. [Darius Johnson-Odom] was lead scorer in the league and Jae [Crowder] got his first all-conference vote his senior year when he was Player of the Year (last season).
Mama Williams didn’t raise no fool. In his fifth season as Marquette’s head coach and 15th coaching at the Division I level, Williams had recruited or coached 24 players to all-conference honors (in four different conferences), and was working hard to generate some late season “east coast” media buzz that might make Blue player number 25. He had our attention. The assembled media seemed to pick up the thread, but after a question about defense, the questions returned to Blue:
- Q: Can you talk about Vander’s last six/seven games… since he scored the 30 against South Florida? It seems he has taken it to another level and been your go-to guy… it seems like Vander has taken it on himself to do that?
- A: Yes, I think since that game at South Florida he’s been playing at a different clip.