When Vander Blue arrived at Marquette in 2010, he faced lofty expectations. The now-junior guard was expected by many people to be the “next big thing” for the Golden Eagles. He’d already made a statement by leaving rival Wisconsin-Madison to join coach Buzz William’s squad. He soon became a household name around campus.
Blue showed some potential that December, scoring 21 points in a win over Texas A&M CC and 16 in a win over Centenary. From then on, however, he didn’t have a stellar freshman season, averaging just 5.1 points and 19 minutes on the court per game. His sophomore season wasn’t much better, as he scored just 8.4 points per contest in 25.7 minutes.
“My first year really wasn’t my time,” Blue said. “We had guys like Darius, Jae, Jimmy and Dwight Buycks, and I wanted to learn from them and see how they played the game here.”
During his first two years, Blue played in the shadow of Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. They were Marquette’s leaders, and when they left there was a lot of speculation as to who would be the Golden Eagle’s next top scorer.
Eighteen games into his junior season, Blue’s started to fulfill recruiters’ expectations. He elevated his offensive game, culminating in Monday’s 30-point career-high explosion in a win over South Florida.
Blue admitted that in his earlier years he was able to “hide behind” players like Butler and Crowder, but he said he realizes it’s his time to lead the Golden Eagles.
“I just go out there and try to play better in both halves,” Blue said. “I know what I can do. I’ve been playing basketball a long time and played against the best competition my whole life.”
Blue leads the Golden Eagles in scoring with 14.8 points per game. He has scored almost as many points to date (267) as he did all of last season. Coach Buzz Williams has observed Blue’s growth beyond the stat sheet, however.
“I think he’s taking ownership in how we have to function,” Williams said. “I tell our kids all the time that God blesses the intent of your heart, and I think Vander’s heart is in the right spot. I think he’s been accountable for his work and his preparation. I think that mentally, physically and emotionally he’s in a good groove.”
The most dramatic difference in Blue’s offensive game has been his 3-point shot. After hitting just 16 percent of his threes in his freshman year and 25.8 percent as a sophomore, Blue has upped his accuracy to 32.4 percent. He’s knocked down 23 shots from beyond the arc, more than he had in his first two years combined.
Williams credited Blue’s much improved shot selection, knowledge of the team’s logistics and individual work ethic as reasons for his improvement.
“The No. 1 reason he’s shooting a higher percentage is just because he’s shooting better shots,” Williams said. “He couldn’t make a (three-pointer) or a layup in his first 30 games here, so I think he’s beginning to understand the value of a good shot.”
After Blue’s career-high game, in which he finished with a three-pointer for the ninth consecutive game, Williams recalled senior guard Junior Cadougan’s statement when Blue was at the line for a chance at his 31st point of the night.
“Coach, do you remember when he came here and he couldn’t shoot?” Cadougan asked Williams. “And now he’s scored 30.”