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Marquette Wire

Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro ‘have set an incredible standard’ in their three years at Marquette

Photo by Forster Goodrich
Tyler Kolek (right) and Oso Ighodaro (left) have been playing together for all three years Shaka Smart has been the head coach at Marquette.

DALLAS — Tyler Kolek did everything in his power to keep his head held high.

He walked off the court, his face beet red and his jersey torn in half.

Tears streamed from his eyes. The pain was overwhelming. Too much so to fight it back, to keep it down.

As he made his way into the locker room, just minutes removed from Marquette men’s basketball’s 67-58 season-ending loss to NC State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, the realization was setting in.

At the same time, Oso Ighodaro, Kolek’s senior counterpart, was coming to grips with the same thing — their three years spent in the blue & gold had been filled with highs, but all ended abruptly in the same, heartbreaking fashion.

Ighodaro made his way around the dressing room, giving hugs to every one of his teammates and sharing a word.

“That’s why it hurts so much,” Ighodaro said as he cried. “I love these guys so much.”

When he got to Kolek, he embraced his starting point guard for the longest time of all.

“He just does so much for the school,” Ighodaro said. “And I feel like I let him down today. He’s just a warrior. He’s fought through so much to be here.”

Kolek embraced back.

“We (Ighodaro and I) came in with Coach, we were his first couple recruits,” Kolek said. “First people that he’s retained, first recruiting class that he brought in…

“We built a lot at this school. Just to see it end now is tough.”

Kolek and Ighodaro ‘have set an incredible standard’

After Friday’s loss, Marquette head coach Shaka Smart was quick to recognize just how valuable his two veterans have been.

“I did tell the guys after the game in the locker room that our two seniors, Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro, have set an incredible standard over the past three years in our program,” Smart said.

“It’s really going to be on the rest of us to uphold that standard. It’s going to be tough, but even try to raise that standard.”

The two of them have been at Marquette every step of the way with Smart.

Through Smart’s first statement win as the Golden Eagles head coach over Illinois in the 2021-22 season. Through the thumping at the hands of North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to end Smart’s first season at Marquette.

Through the program’s first outright Big East regular season championship and first conference tournament title in 2022-23. And the subsequent heartbreaking loss to Michigan State in the NCAA second round.

Through this year’s trials and tribulations, which ended at the hands of the Wolfpack in the Golden Eagles’ first Sweet 16 appearance in 11 years.

“Done a lot of great things here. Just couldn’t get it done this year,” Ighodaro said. “We built something special here. And it’s gonna continue to be special. So I’m proud of that.”

Before the season started, Ighodaro said he was confident he wouldn’t be using his extra year of eligibility and would turn professional next year. And Kolek could very well be leaving the program after another strong season that has seen him sit comfortably in many NBA mock drafts.

If both do leave, which is looking likely, the Golden Eagles will go into next year without two of their pillars, both on the court and in the locker room.

“Grateful for Tyler and Oso and their leadership and setting that standard,” junior guard Kam Jones said. “It’s up to us and the players to stand behind and sustain that standard as long as we’re here.”

Two seniors morphed further into team leaders

At the start of timeouts, before Smart makes his way into the huddle, Ighodaro can be seen leading the conversation and pointing out things he has noticed.

After the 6-foot-11 forward speaks, Kolek sits down in his coach’s chair and provides his two cents.

“I think Tyler and Oso laid a great foundation, obviously with the help of all of us,” junior guard Stevie Mitchell said. “Just continue to build off that, grow off that.”

But Kolek’s leadership role started with his ability to lead Marquette to new heights through his on-court presence.

In three years donning the blue & gold, he set benchmarks and broke records that had stood untouched for longer than he’s been alive.

His 18-dime masterclass over DePaul beat the record 17 assists Tony Miller set in 1995 vs. Memphis. He became the third player in program history to earn consensus All-American selections in back-to-back seasons. He was the first player since Dwyane Wade to record at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in an NCAA tournament game.

“This guy sitting to my right (Kolek) is the best point guard in college basketball,” Smart said. “It has been an absolute honor to coach him the last three years.”

Kolek has been bloodied and bruised as a Golden Eagle, but he still fought through it all as Marquette’s point guard to lead the team to its best two seasons in decades.

“I’ve given it all I’ve got these past three years,” he said.

Ighodaro — who had been fighting through a left knee injury he picked up in the Big East Tournament championship — has seen his role at Marquette grow with every year he put under his belt.

He has always been the Golden Eagles’ center who prioritized improving his craftiness. That meant working on his ball handling, passing and dribbling abilities.

But as a senior, Ighodaro served also as the team’s rock — the person everyone else would look to — while still being a nightmare matchup for opposing bigs.

“Oso cares deeply. He is one of the most conscientious basketball players that I’ve ever coached, one of the most unselfish — the most unselfish of the really good players that I’ve coached. I think he came to battle and fight for his team,” Smart said.

“The guy has been a huge part of winning more games than have been won at Marquette in a two-year stretch than I think anyone else. We love him. We’re going to miss him. We’re grateful for him.”

The Golden Eagles’ 2023-24 campaign is done, though, courtesy of their worst shooting performance of the season. And now they have to look ahead to a time without their two senior leaders.

“I’ll go to war with this group about at any point,” Smart said. “We’ve got some good young players that we’re excited about getting better and improving. Just like last year, this experience will drive us.

“This experience will inform a lot of the things that we do over the course of the next several months, and our guys will come together and improve and go after being the best version of us the next time we get a chance to play.”

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @JackAlbrightMU.

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About the Contributors
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.
Katie Craig, Staff Photographer
Katie is a Staff Photographer at the Wire. She is a first-year from Lakeville, MN studying digital media and minoring in advertising. In her free time, Katie enjoys photography and hanging out with her friends. This year Katie is looking forward to getting to know more people and improving her photography skills.
Forster Goodrich, Staff Photographer
Forster Goodrich is a sophomore from Lyme, New Hampshire studying digital media. Forster works on the photography desk as a Staff Photographer. Outside of the Wire, he is on the club waterski team, and enjoys everything outdoors. He is looking forward to the upcoming basketball season and getting to photograph games at Fiserv Forum.

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