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SCHMIDT: Lazar’s Legacy

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The moment came and went quietly, just like Lazar Hayward will when he plays his last game at Marquette sometime next month. For the man who has everything, the moment was fleeting. Just another milestone achieved, another record toppled. It wasn’t even front-page worthy.

Except this time, it really was. Two weeks ago, Hayward joined Bo Ellis as the only players in Marquette history with 1,600 points and 800 rebounds. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of Golden Eagles hoops knows that Hayward has had an amazing career, but this latest triumph may have been the forward’s true coming out party. Living legends like Ellis are taking notice, and the ghosts of heroes past are shaking in their linen sheets.

Think about it. He has scored more points and grabbed more rebounds than anyone in school history. That isn’t a statistic you can just throw around inconsequentially — it carries a lot of weight. The word titanic is probably an understatement. In reality, No. 32 has been Zeus disguised as Lazar Hayward.

Even though Hayward has single-handedly smote the entire Big East conference with his thunderous play, he won’t take any credit for it.

“I’m just happy to be in the same sentence with Ellis. I see his number hanging down from the rafters when I walk into the Bradley Center, so it’s a wonderful feeling,” Hayward said. “But I was just blessed to be with the team and coach I have. The camaraderie and passion we play with helps us win games. I do the best I can so others follow my lead.”

They’re following you Lazar. They’ve been following you for four years, like paparazzi follow Tiger Woods.

If he ever decided to take up a different profession instead of basketball — like blindfolded bull-fighting or parachute-less skydiving — I’m pretty sure his teammates would follow him there, too, no questions asked. He’s the kind of leader that inspires champions.

Which is why this unforgettable season shouldn’t feel like a sucker punch out of the blue. With Buzz calling (screaming is probably more appropriate) the shots and Hayward leading the charge, Golden Eagle nation should have seen this one coming. No one demands more sacrifice than Williams, and no one gives more of himself than Hayward, so all those two needed was to get the other 11 players on the team on the same page.

And presto, this team overachieves like it’s nobody’s business en route to a 20-win season and an all but guaranteed tournament bid.

This year couldn’t have served as a better encore to Hayward’s historic run at Marquette. His whole life has been about proving people wrong. Right now, he is making people shake their heads and rub their eyes after every sizzling victory. People are starting to get it. They’re starting to believe.

And when the clock strikes midnight on Hayward’s magical run at Marquette, there will be a lot of stories to tell.

“I just wanted to be part of the great Marquette history,” Hayward said. “Buzz helped me so much in growing as a person and a man. I came here with a hard work ethic and I wanted to do the best I could every game. All the records I was a part of I was happy for, but I just wanted to work.”

He is a rare player. A physically imposing and dominant force on the court, a true gentleman off of it. Hayward is humble, well-spoken and courteous. Powerful, agile, determined. Unstoppable.

The No. 32 jersey currently hangs from Hayward’s frame, right where it belongs. But maybe one day, long after Hayward’s work is done at Marquette, it will dangle proudly next to Ellis’ No. 31.

“I don’t know about that. I just keep dreaming. Maybe in my dreams it will happen. I’m just blessed to have my coaches and teammates,” Hayward said.

And all of Marquette was blessed to have watched you play.

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