Upcoming Marquette matchup brings back memories of Al McGuire for Kansas State head coach

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Upcoming Marquette matchup brings back memories of Al McGuire for Kansas State head coach

Bruce Weber has been the head coach at Kansas State since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics.)

Bruce Weber has been the head coach at Kansas State since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics.)

Bruce Weber has been the head coach at Kansas State since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics.)

Bruce Weber has been the head coach at Kansas State since 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kansas State Athletics.)

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Having appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments and two Elite Eights since 2008, head coach Bruce Weber is easily recognizable as a figure of Kansas State men’s basketball.

Yet the last time Marquette played at Kansas State in 1988, Weber likely wouldn’t have been sporting purple and black. As a Milwaukee native, Weber grew up a die-hard Marquette fan.

“That was my team,” Weber said prior to the start of the season. 

Weber, who attended John Marshall High School, wasn’t far from the MU program.

When legendary former head coach Al McGuire held open practices Friday and Saturday nights to keep players from partying, Weber was watching.

When Marquette defeated the University of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in Madison in 1969, Weber was in the top row of the Wisconsin Fieldhouse. He said he “will always remember” McGuire jumping on the scorer’s table and waving his coat in the air. When Marquette won the National Championship in 1977, Weber said he remembers being on Wisconsin Avenue and at the Marquette Gym.

A “devastating loss” to Purdue in 1969 — when Weber was 13 — and basketball camps run by McGuire, former coach Hank Raymonds and Hall of Fame coach Rick Majerus also came to mind for Weber, now 63.

Weber said attending Marquette was never financially doable for him, so he instead went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Still, he kept MU close to his heart.

McGuire, who Weber said is “somebody you respect and hope to be like some day,” was a major influence as he pursued a career in coaching.

During his 18-year tenure as an assistant coach at Purdue, he took advantage of opportunities to be around McGuire.

“As I got into coaching, he was announcing,” Weber said. “I got to be around him because I was at Purdue at that time. He actually came and did a clinic at our place and did a lot of our games. (I) saw a lot of wisdom there.”

When Weber earned his first head coach job at Southern Illinois in 1998, he got a letter from his idol.

“I sure remember when I got my first head coaching job, he sent me a handwritten note, and it was pretty special for me,” Weber said.

Fast forward a couple decades, and Weber’s connections to Marquette and Milwaukee still run deep.

When Weber’s team lost 83-71 at Marquette last December, he had about 75 to 100 tickets for friends.

Milwaukee Public Schools honored him with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award at an event in October, where he saw people he’s known since he was four years old. The upcoming rematch against the Golden Eagles Dec. 7 was a topic of conversation during the event.

“A lot of people were talking about the game and the rematch,” Weber said. “So hopefully we can play a little better.”

Tickets to the matchup were even a raffle item. One couple at the event bought airfare, hotel accommodations and tickets to Saturday’s game in an auction benefiting the MPS Foundation. Other friends of Weber are making the trip from Milwaukee to Manhattan as well.

There’s an expectation that those friends will not be in blue and gold, though.

“They’re Marquette fans, but if they’re my true friends, they’re cheering for us in that game,” Weber said.

Weber’s hopes of a better performance than last year’s loss faces a 5-foot-11 obstacle in senior guard Markus Howard.

Howard scored 45 points against Weber’s squad last time. Now Weber is looking for answers again with fewer options to stop him.

“I’m not sure if we can stop him, but we have to slow him down and make him earn some stuff,” Weber said.

Either way, Weber acknowledged the importance for his team to play Marquette, who is 31st in analytics site KenPom’s rankings.

“It’s a great game for us early in the year to play a quality team like that that’s very well-coached and has one of the elite guards in the country,” Weber said.

It’s also an opportune time for Weber to make a few more “great memories” involving Marquette, albeit on the other side of the court.

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