In a college basketball world full of one-and-done athletes, it’s refreshing for a program to have players stay through their eligibility and watch them develop as people and players.
It’s been that way since Buzz Williams arrived on campus as coach in 2008. That season, it was the senior trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.
Who ran the campus, known nationally as three of the best guards in college basketball.
Unfortunately, that team couldn’t fulfill its potential, mainly because of James’ foot injury in early February which ended his season. But there was little doubt that Marquette went as the Three Amigos went.
In 2009-‘10, it was Lazar Hayward, Maurice Acker and David Cubillan.
Hayward defended the opposition’s best big man, ran the Golden Eagles offense and was the definitive leader.
Acker was one of the Big East’s best shooters (shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers, 10th-best in the country) and ran his offense as smoothly as anyone else in the country that year.
Cubillan was the one who was easy to forget about — moving around the perimeter, looking for any shooting space, always ready to catch, shoot and score. He also was one of the most intense defenders I’ve ever seen, applying relentless pressure even 80 or 90 feet from the basket.
And last year, it was Jimmy Butler.
What didn’t Jimmy do?
He defended whomever he was asked, including guards like Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, former Connecticut Huskies’ star Kemba Walker and even Xavier star Tu Holloway. As if lockdown defense wasn’t enough, whenever the offense was stagnant he stepped up his game on that end, too.
So why would this year’s Marquette team be any different?
This is again a senior-driven team, with Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder at the helm.
Johnson-Odom was a member of the preseason All-Big East First Team and could end the season as the conference’s player of the year.
He came back from a tough non-conference season to average 17.2 points in Big East play last year. That number will have to increase this year, and he’s plenty capable of making that happen.
Sound like he’ll have a lot of pressure on him? He will.
But that pressure won’t just be on Johnson-Odom’s shoulders. Crowder wants to — and will have to — bear the load with Johnson-Odom.
“As a basketball player, that’s what you want. You don’t want it to be easy,” Crowder said.
Crowder’s skill set is very unique in college basketball.
He can battle with the post players in the Big East, take his bigger defender off the dribble and nail a jumper in his defender’s face.
Crowder’s combination of size and quickness is a match-up nightmare for opponents, and the conference recognized him for his skill set by naming him a preseason All-Big East Honorable Mention.
To improve that honorable mention distinction into a first or second team honor at season’s end, Crowder must improve his consistency. There were games last year where teams made a point to shut him down, and he couldn’t adjust. This year, he’ll be ready for that, according to the man himself.
“You just have to take on that role of bringing your ‘A’ game every night,” Crowder said. “There are going to be teams now where you’re the main focus of their scouting report.”
As in the past when Marquette depended heavily on the “Three Amigos” in Williams’ first year, Lazar and Acker his second year, then Butler last year, this year’s seniors will get the same treatment.
They will need help from their supporting cast, but if Marquette is going to succeed this season, it will be because of its two senior leaders.