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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Tyler Kolek is more than a facilitator on one of the nation’s top offensive teams

Photo by Alex DeBuhr
Junior guard Tyler Kolek brings up the ball in No. 10 Marquette men’s basketball’s 80-77 overtime loss to Wisconsin Dec. 4 at Fiserv Forum.

Tyler Kolek does more than dish out dimes and throw up lobs to Oso Ighodaro. 

The reasons for it are clear. Just ask the last point guard who brought Marquette to a Final Four, Travis Diener. 

“He competes, he’s a willing passer and he makes others around him better,” Diener said. “He has all the traits to be a really high-level college basketball player and you’re seeing a lot more signs of it now, especially in the last few weeks.” 

Since the Golden Eagles win Jan. 3 at St. John’s, Kolek is averaging 16.9 points, 8.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. 

“He’s the best point guard in the Big East and arguably one of the best point guards in the country,” Diener said. “It was only a matter of time once he started feeling comfortable in the system and being in school here. I know he wanted it to happen probably sooner, but for the amount of work he’s put in, he deserves it all.” 

The 10th-ranked Golden Eagles (19-5, 11-2 Big East) sit atop the Big East standings, pulling off five straight wins. Kolek, who is third in the country in assists, has another opportunity to steer Marquette’s highly efficient offense against UConn (18-6, 7-6) Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m. CST at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. 

“He has a great feel for the game, understands the game and where people should be,” Fox Sports analyst Bill Raferty said. “It’s a nice extension for any coach to have a kid like that with that outlook and attitude in terms of team play.” 

Changing mechanics 

Kolek put together a strong first season with the Golden Eagles after transferring from George Mason prior to last year, as he led the Big East with 5.7 assists per game.

However, his shooting took a turn. During the 2020-21 season with the Patriots, Kolek shot 35.9% from deep while earning Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year honors. 

Last season, that number dropped to 28.1%. 

Following last season, Kolek reached out to Diener about working out with him at Diener’s facility in Mequon. Diener served as the director of player development on former head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s staff for three seasons from 2015-18. 

“He kind of struggled last year shooting the ball, and I think he was feeling it mentally from a confidence standpoint,” Diener said. “The staff thought it’d be a good idea to come and maybe try a new voice.” 

Along with Nevada Smith, a special assistant to head coach Shaka Smart and coined offensive guru behind Marquette’s offense, Diener worked on tweaking Kolek’s shot. 

“He needed to get his left hand under the ball more,” Diener said. “He was using too much of his left thumb so he was getting a weird rotation on the ball when he shot.” 

To work out of that habit, Kolek worked on repeating the same motion of removing his right thumb sitting on and around the ball. 

Diener said he also tried instilling confidence in Kolek from a mindset standpoint. 

“Once you get in a bad rut, it’s hard to get out of,” Diener said. “From playing with him and being around, I tried to instill in him the fact he was a good shooter, and he has shot the ball well throughout his life.”

Smith said with Kolek as the team’s primary point guard, another main area of focus was working on taking shots off the bounce. 

“He was always taking shots off the catch,” Smith said. “We had to really work on picking the ball off the floor.”

Diener said he credits Kolek for how receptive he was in the process. 

“It’s all credit to Tyler for buying into the fact that he’s going to make some changes because he is stubborn as all great players are,” Diener said. “It takes a level of looking yourself in the mirror and saying, ‘Okay if I want to make shots, I have to change something because fundamentally I’m not there yet.’” 

Evolving into one of the nation’s top point guards 

Kolek has emerged into one of the nation’s best point guards. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced Feb. 6 that Kolek was a Top 10 finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, which recognizes the top point guard in Division I men’s college basketball.

But being the dime-dropping, shifty playmaking point guard that he is today, wasn’t the initial vision that the coaching staff saw in him. 

“What we envisioned with Tyler was a guy that could turn into a very mature, serious, tough, hard-nosed competitor who has an unbelievable IQ and loves to make plays for other people,” Smart said. “I didn’t know he would be averaging eight assists per game.”

“But we knew that he was a guy that could make plays for his teammates, knew he was a guy that could shoot but also was a playmaker.”

Smith said the first glimpses of Kolek’s ability to make plays came prior to last season when he filled in for former guard Darryl Morsell at point, as Morsell was sidelined until October with an injury. 

You started seeing it in workouts with him having some vision that maybe we didn’t anticipate him having,” Smith said. “Being able to throw some passes that really good point guards can’t throw … You just saw the game starting to come easy for everybody else.”

The 6-foot-3 junior then became the Golden Eagles’ primary point guard. 

Making that extra pass, handling a top-ranked offense 

It is no mystery that Marquette’s offensive numbers have improved from last year. It is No. 1 in 2-point field goal percentage on the analytics site

The Golden Eagles also spent several weeks sitting at No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom, before dropping to No. 4 following their win over Butler Feb. 4. 

Part of that has to do with Kolek in command of the offense.

“My role is finding guys, getting guys shots and score when the opportunity presents itself,” Kolek said. 

Proof of Marquette’s improved offense is seen in Kolek’s growth in leadership on the court. 

“He’s taken ownership of that and really led this group,” Smith said. “He’s done such a great job with his voice and really coming into his own as a leader and an older guy on this team.” 

Diener said Kolek’s developed confidence in his shooting has contributed to his offensive breakout. 

“He didn’t forget how to play or learn how to play in the last few weeks. It’s all a mentality,” Diener said. “He goes into everything thinking he’s the best player on the floor and you can see it in his eyes, in his body language and from his teammates. 

“He’s really blossoming and it shows up to the outside in the statistics, but even when he doesn’t have a huge scoring night or huge assists numbers, you can see the way he plays and that he has total control over the basketball game.” 

Back on Jan. 7 against Georgetown, Kolek became the first player in the last 30 years to finish with 15 assists, three steals and zero turnovers in a Big East game. 

“He makes playing basketball a hell of a lot easier,” sophomore guard Kam Jones said. “I know when he is going to pass it to me, and most of the time I know where he is going with the ball. I just got to be ready.” 

Kolek has also become a more aggressive scorer this season for the Golden Eagles, by attacking the paint and taking more mid-range jumpers.

“Last year, a lot of teams just started playing him as a passer, so he made adjustments in the off-season,” Jones said. “He’s always been a great scorer since I’ve known him, he’s just been more aggressive and we keep instilling confidence in him to do that.” 

Kolek’s ability to be an elite passer and aggressive scorer poses challenges for opposing teams when it comes to designing their defensive schemes, as he is No. 1 on scout reports. 

“He does everything for their team. He has a will and toughness about him that you really have to respect,” Xavier men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said. “If you look at that one key player for them that brings this all together is him.” 

Diener, who said he sees a lot of himself in Kolek, said the Rhode Island native’s best play is still ahead of him. 

“I love his toughness and his work ethic,” Diener said. “He’s an incredible willing passer … He has such a high ceiling and he could be, if he’s not already there, one of the best college basketball players.” 

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.

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