First-year guards bring ‘pit bull’ mentality to Smart’s program

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(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Growing up in the inner city of Detroit, Marquette men’s basketball assistant coach DeAndre Haynes knew to stay away from two pit bulls once they got free.

“I remember these pit bulls that always used to get loose, one was named Bobo, one was named Liu Kang, and when those pit bulls got loose in our neighborhood, everybody was running,” Haynes said.

Now two first-year players, guards Sean Jones and Chase Ross, make him think of those dogs when he sees them on the court.

“When I see those guys on the floor playing, I have a flashback of that because I don’t want no part of that, I’m trying to get away from it,” Haynes said.

Haynes has seen that pit bull mentality for a while in Jones when he started recruiting him at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio.

“I told coach (Shaka Smart) when I first started recruiting him we call him pit bull, that pest,” Haynes said. “You don’t want to bring the ball up against them, you just want to give it up.”

Ross said he has totally embraced that identity through his defense and athletic ability, with the Dallas native averaging 1.43 steals, good for 11th in the Big East.

“That’s all I need to do on defense, insert fear into their eyes,” Ross said. “We have this thing called vicious eyes, so that’s what I try to do and it’s how I get my deflections and steals.”

For Jones, it’s all part of what it means to play at Marquette.

“It’s something we talk about a lot,” Jones said. “Being off the bench we talk about bringing energy and one of the easiest ways [to] bring energy is being energetic on the defensive end.”

While the pair said that they look to evoke fear from their opponents, at the beginning of the year they didn’t to expect to play much at all.

However, now 21 games into the season, they are two of the top three players coming off the bench for the No. 20 team in the country.

Ross is currently playing 16.9 minutes per contest, while Jones gets about 12.6 minutes a night.

“I wouldn’t put it past myself (to play this much), but I really didn’t expect this many minutes,” Ross said. “I came in here with an open mind, went with the flow (and) I’m just going with it.”

It hasn’t just been on the defensive end where the two first-years have made an impact.

Ross is currently averaging 5.5 points per game while shooting 52% from the field, 35% from three and carries an offensive rating of 121.4, good for ninth in the Big East.

“I’ve always felt like I’m an all around player, so on offense I get open and then on defense just really creating my offense honestly,” Ross said. “That’s how I do it.”

While Jones has had five games this season without scoring, having glimpses of his offensive potential, by knocking down three straight three pointers on Dec. 27, 2022 against Seton Hall, has been a confidence booster for Jones throughout the season.

“It shows that I can do it, so keep working, keep my head down,” Jones said. “I can just get better and better and (have it) become something natural.”

Between them and fellow bench mates in sophomore forward David Joplin and first-year forward Ben Gold, they hold the second-highest scoring average in the Big East at 22.6 points per game.

“It’s the most electric bench I think in NCAA basketball,” Haynes said. “It’s a bench that values relationships and growth and they want to see each player be successful. We have no guys with big egos who’s made about a person playing more than them.”

Ross said it’s all part of a message that Smart has been telling the whole team since day one; do whatever it takes to win.

“That’s what coach has been preaching to us since we got here this summer, it’s about relationships, growth and victory,” Ross said. “That’s what I’m here to do and I don’t care what my individual stats are, as long as the scoreboard says Marquette (with) more (points) than our opponent.”

In part, due to their efforts, Marquette has been able to climb to the second seed in the Big East with an 8-2 record. All the while, they are the fourth-least experienced power conference team in the country and least experienced in the Big East according to KenPom.

Jones said he is not taking this opportunity to play big minutes on a ranked team lightly.

“I’m just not taking it for granted, taking every moment in, staying level-headed,” Jones said. “It’s been good for me, there’s ups and downs, I’m a freshman and you just never know what your night is going to be.”

This story was written by Jackson Gross. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JacksonGrossMU.