GROVER: Three’s a crowd


Anyone want to hire me? Hardworking, dependable journalism student looking for a decent job. Pay: negotiable. Potential employers, I’m doing my Tupac impression here. Hoping you listen, I catch you paying attention to my ambitions as a writer.

Yeah, it’s tough finding work in this economy. I’ve considered failing all my classes so I can just keep going here. It’ll probably happen anyway. I try to stay optimistic. It could be worse. For instance, try breaking into one of the most competitive fields in the world with a total employment of just a few hundred.

Graduated and gone, the 2005 recruiting class of Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal was by far one of the most talented the school has ever seen. And yet, Draft Night 2009 happened and none of them, not even the Second Team All-American McNeal, was drafted. How could this be?

But their goal of making it to the pros isn’t over. All three have been picked up by teams and now they are battling for final roster spots. I recently had a chance to speak with all of them. So if tuition goes up again next semester, it’s probably because of all the long-distance phone calls I made.

When he first arrived at Marquette, Dominic James was the blue chip stud with lottery pick written all over him. Everyone was sure he was going to leave early. He never had the strongest jump shot, but he more than made up for it with his athleticism. It didn’t happen the way we all thought it would.

“Honestly, I felt like one of the three of us should’ve got drafted, especially Jerel and Wes,” James said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go that way. We’ve been in situations where it didn’t fall our way, and we’ve grown up from it and gotten a lot stronger and a lot more mature.”

That was then, this is now. James is coming off consecutive injuries and is now fighting for a place with the Milwaukee Bucks, a team right in his collegiate backyard. He knows all the Bucks personnel and still gets home-cooked meals, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder. And he feels that it gives him an advantage.

“I come out with something to prove everyday,” James said. “Being competitive is part of my nature, especially coming from Marquette.”

Of the group, former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball Wesley Matthews probably has the best chance of becoming an NBA player with the Utah Jazz, a team with depth issues at the positions he plays. Who would’ve guessed that four years ago?

Like the others, he was disappointed with the draft. He said it was one of the worst days of his life. But despite that, he’s got another chance, and he’s taking it.

“We’re all warriors,” Matthews said of the Three Amigos. “We’re going to battle and we’re going to fight to be here. We feel like we belong in this league.”

Jerel McNeal went from the least heralded of the bunch in his freshman year to by far the standout of his graduating class. But somehow, the Second Team All-American swingman was not one of the 60 names called on draft night. Now, he’s trying to get onto the roster of a young, hungry Los Angeles Clippers team.

“He’s a guy that once he finds the right situation, there’s no doubt that he’s an NBA guy,” former Marquette star and current Clipper Steve Novak said. “Hopefully he can prove it this year, but if not, there’s not a doubt about it that at some point he’ll be in the NBA.”

While he played the 2-guard at Marquette, at 6-foot-3 McNeal is slightly undersized for a shooter in the NBA. He might end up having to transition to the point, but he is willing to do what it takes.

“They have a pretty good team,” McNeal said. “It’s a situation where I have to come in here and do anything I have to to be a contributor.”

While all three are long-shots to make a 12-man roster, there is always overseas ball and opportunities here at Marquette.

Also, if you guys want to change agents, I’ll be available in June.