GROVER: Diener’s up and down journey

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The folks over at (who always have good stuff) recently updated their running list of the 30 Greatest Marquette players of all time. Sure enough, clocking in at No. 27 is Buffalo, N.Y.’s finest, Lazar NBA-ward.

That’s his new moniker because Hayward could be draft-bound; a possible second round pick, according to some draft boards. With solid rookie play he could jut up to No. 17 on the all-time list, a step behind another Marquette great, the Fond du Lac Maniac, Travis Diener. I’m getting pretty good at this nickname thing.

Diener is long gone, an NBA veteran of five years now. Ask 100 people about him and 99 will tell you about his moment in the sun in 2003 with the rest of the Final Four team, and deservedly so. It is his legacy. But since then, his career hasn’t been as memorable. Diener couldn’t even finish his senior season when he was forced to sit out with broken fingers in his non-shooting hand.

“It’s as low as I’ve felt as a basketball player,” he said.

“The first two years (at Marquette) were great,” Diener said. “I just wish it could have been more successful the last two, but I was extremely happy with the way the first two went. … I’ll take the Final Four over not making the Final Four.”

A second round pick, he played sporadically for Orlando, but was finding a niche in Indiana, getting relatively consistent minutes and being a team contributor as a back-up. Then, during off-season training camp, he broke a toe and was forced to sit out most of this year before he was unceremoniously cut on March 1 by the Pacers. Now he finds himself on the Trail Blazers, where he mostly sits on the end of the bench as Portland chases the final playoff spot in the Western conference. It has been the most difficult season of his career.

“It’s been pretty frustrating, but coming out here has been a change of pace and being part of a winning organization has been great for me,” Diener said. “You always have to go into the day with a positive attitude. You work hard to rehab, and hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.”

Three teams in five years is rough on anybody. I asked Diener if “journeyman” was a bad word:

“I don’t know, it could be,” Diener said. “In the NBA, it’s hard to stay in one place — unless you’re an elite player — for your whole career. … I’m just trying to play as long as possible, and whatever team could use me and wants me on their team, I’ll go play for.”

Like most players, Diener’s plan is to play for as long as his body permits. But he isn’t naive. The NBA is a cut-throat place, and perhaps, in a year or so, there won’t be a place for him any longer. Diener said he’s thought about Euro-ball, and wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to it, but another passion with family roots might keep him from heading overseas. Travis’ uncle, Dick Diener, coached him in high school and another uncle, Tom Diener, is a five-time Wisconsin State Champion coach.

“You can’t play basketball forever,” Diener said. “At some point you have to hang it up and move on. In the future, I want to get into coaching, so I try and learn everything from the coaches that could maybe help me one day.

“Throughout the years I’ve played for a lot of great coaches, and at one point I’d like to teach younger kids the game of basketball and everything I’ve learned. It interests me, because I’ve been around basketball my whole life.”

Travis Diener is one of the smartest floor generals I’ve ever seen in person, and really does not get enough credit with the Final Four team. Sure, his NBA career might not have the luster of an all-time great, but he has succeeded, regardless. It’s not even close to over yet.

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