"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Milwaukee Pro-Am: Highlights

Thanks to our friends over at Scout for posting some highlights of the Milwaukee Pro-Am. After talking about what I've seen out there, I thought it would be nice to share some video of what's been going on out at Greenfield High School. Here are a few things worth watching for:

Junior Cadougan is keeping his dribble lower, rarely bringing the ball about waist height, and also shows off some improved range on his jumper. Chris Otule displays an improved offensive game with a number of left-handed finishes. Jake Thomas has simply crazy range, the last time I saw anyone spot up that far out was Steve Novak. Davante Gardner has clearly slimmed down, and while many of the moves he shows off probably won't work in season play, he clearly has an improved motor. Take a look:

Pro-Am Highlight Reel

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back to the Pro-Am

I got out to IWB's Milwaukee Pro-Am at Greenfield High School again today. As always, it was a good time, and I was especially glad to be joined by a number of other Marquette fans. A small group of us took in the action and tried to get some impressions of what we might have in store for next season. Here's what I came away with after another look at some of these guys.

Junior Cadougan: If the Pro-Am is any indicator, Junior is on the verge of stardom. His shooting form has improved, though he still has problems when he adjusts in mid-air. He was very good at the line, hitting 9 in a row at one point. He's in better shape, accelerates very well (sometimes too fast for teammates), and is faster than I ever expected. I also liked his defensive instincts. He seemed aware of Otule, and when he couldn't cut a guy off he would funnel them inside to CO, who was constantly altering shots. He did run into some frustration when teammates wouldn't put the ball up despite him getting them the ball in position and when he outran everyone else on the fast-break, but when he's surrounded by guys like DJO and Jamil Wilson, that shouldn't be a problem.

Chris Otule: When Chris is down low, he seems to have an impact on virtually every shot that goes up. It will surprise no one that he is a flat-out shot-changer. But what I really liked was what I saw on offense. On more than one occasion, Otule demonstrated a reverse-pivot move that allowed him to finish with his left hand. I can't remember seeing this from him last season. If Otule can develop another reliable post move or two, he could really help open things up for us by keeping defenses honest.

Jamil Wilson: He is one heck of an athlete. Jamil seems to be able to do a bit of everything. At times he brought the ball up, he showed off shooting range with a few 3's, he got rebounds and put-backs in traffic, and even tried to take a charge (though was called for blocking). He looks like the basketball version of a "five-tool player".

Juan Anderson: When I think of JA, I think of a guy that has a very high basketball IQ. He has excellent court vision, unbelievable creativity when passing, and is willing to defer to his teammates. Some of the passes he makes, including one stunning left-handed bounce pass while on the run, are simply things of beauty. He needs to bulk up a bit, but when he does, expect him to be an exciting and intriguing player to watch.

Jake Thomas: This guy is going to have a positive impact on Marquette next year. I know, he's not eligible to play until 2012-13, but he will be a dynamite practice player. Thomas ran the point for his team today and also continued to demonstrate ridiculous shooting range. Thomas isn't your typical walk-on. He looks like a high-major contributor. Jake's a hard worker, a great shooter, and a tough defender. I have no doubt that our guards will be better players for having to play against him on a daily basis. I'm looking forward to this kid being a Warrior.

Vander Blue: I only watched the first half of Blue's game. He can drive and score and put in a good effort, but his shot still needs work. He tends to push it more than he does shoot it. On the plus side, it's actually falling more than it did last season. If nothing else, hopefully the Pro-Am will help build his confidence. Still, I can't see him as anything more than a sixth or seventh man right now.

Jamail Jones: I love Melo's new body, but I want to see him use it more. He tends to stick to the perimeter on offense, just waiting to knock down the three. He got inside a few times, but I think with his strength he could actually develop a bit of a post-up game. Physically he looks like he should be ahead of the curve, but if he doesn't add more diversity to his game, I could see people like Mayo and Anderson passing him in the rotation come fall.

Other Thoughts:

  • Dwight Buycks is built for the Pro-Am, but if and when he plays professionally, he needs to be a 2-guard. He's a score first, score second, score third, pass fourth kind of guy. Still, he's fun to watch. Some of the fade-away 3's he hit were incredible.
  • Dunk of the day goes to Trend Blackledge (no surprise there). At the end of their game, Cadougan fed him an alley-oop that saw Trend's hand a good foot above the rim as he just seemed to hang for a second before slamming it down.
  • The best non-Marquette guy I watched today was Dejuante Wade. The big man was matched up against Jamil Wilson and looked unstoppable early, hitting shots down low, from mid-range, and displaying good post moves. The former UW-GB Phoenix player led his team to a rout today.
  • Watching Junior, Otule, and Keaton Nankivil on the same team makes me wonder what might have been. Nankivil played well both in the post and in shooting from outside. He's the kind of mismatch player that would have really helped Marquette over the past four years, and it's no surprise that the Scion Dental team, even without Wes Matthews, is dominating the MPA.
That's about all I have for now. I hope to get out to the Pro-Am at least once next weekend, and definitely want to make it out the next weekend for the playoffs and the final. For anyone who hasn't made it out, the games are at Greenfield High School, located just south of Layton on 60th Street. Remaining games will be from 6:15-9:15 on Friday, July 29, from 11:30-2:30 on Saturday, July 30, from 6:15-9:30 on Friday, August 5, and the finals will be on Marquette's campus at the Al McGuire Center on Sunday, August 7. If you haven't been out, definitely try to get there. Admission is free, concessions are cheap, and the basketball is fun. And if you can't make it, I'll definitely try to post some more updates.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Warrior greats hit the links

Golfers and hoops fanatics unite and join Bo Ellis and dozens of Marquette Warrior basketball alumni in the 2011 Warrior Day Golf Outing on Monday, July 25 in Lake Geneva.

The day-long outing supports The Nicole Ellis Foundation which provides contributions to select nonprofit organizations, including the American Liver Foundation and the Marquette University Ethnic Alumni Association. Cracked Sidewalks is one of many proud sponsors at this year's outing.

Next week's event is at the the Hawks View Golf Club in Lake Geneva. Participants will play a round of golf with a Marquette basketball great. The event, now in its fourth year, also includes silent and live auctions, as well as a host of post-golf activities at Hawks View. Please click here for more information.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Warrior Travels: Road Warrior Best of ...

“You know how you see a place and it’s just right, and you’re just tired enough. I guess you can’t help stopping.”

The gathering places are where travelers go to find and tell their stories. They are there to shake off the loneliness of the road. These places, in particular, were gravitational for various reasons during my roadtrip across “Marquette America”. These are not travel recommendations per se, but those places of oddity or specialness of the moment that stood out.
Best Honky Tonk: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville—The back door of the original Grand ‘Ole Opry (now Ryman Auditorium) empties here. “Holler ‘n swaller, and don’t forget to tip the band a dollar”.
Best Roadie Bar: Champion’s Sports Bar & Grill, Louisville—Sports agents, reporters and athletic department swags, Bill Raftery holding court, UL donor events, Falls City yards.
Best MU Pep Rally: Renaissance Hotel, Newark—Food Network filming, band, cheerleaders, late Buzz entrance, Fr. Wild hoops swan song, full ballroom of fans, player parade, MU bus caravan to ‘The Rock”.
Best Meal: Cleveland Chop House & Brewery—Great steak and beer, afternoon of HD NCAA viewing, Jimmy the Bartender celebrating his previous night’s engagement with regulars and strangers.
Best Monument or Statue: World War II Memorial, Washington DC—Subtle but fitting monument to the fighting men of the “Great Generation”. Connecting the Mall bowtie in the middle via design.
Best Lunch: Rocky’s, Little Italy NYC--$10 glass of wine or an $18 bottle? Cozy, full sensed, Italian leisure lunch amidst the bustle of a spring day.
Best Attraction: College Basketball Experience, Kansas City—Three MU coaches in, hands-on, poignant start to the travels.
Oddest Attraction: Parthenon, Nashville—Why is Athens in Nashville?
Best Entertainment District: Power & Light District, Kansas City—Great outdoor stage area, Sprint Center and hotel proximity, vibrant, 9 blocks of variety.
Best Arena Bar: Local Heroes Grill & Bar, Cleveland—Sweet 16 MU Celebration, high fiving MU alums, eyes bugging out of my head.
Best BBQ: Jack’s, Nashville—No, not KC BBQ to the haters, but the sampler from around the US was the kicker and apropos for the hoops adventure to come.
Best MU Alumni Gathering: Johnny’s, Kansas City—Full turnouts, young and old, MU committed true and blue, welcoming to out-of-towners.
Best Hotel: Marriott, Louisville—Modern, big-lobbied public hall, points room upgraded, convenient, contained.
Best Pub: Barley House, Cleveland--A Warehouse District hot spot. School-girl kilted Barley Girls, urinal photo billboards, Bloody’s, Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese.
Best Desserts: Gigi’s Cupcakes, Nashville—Red Velvet, Chocolate and Banana Cream Pie. Mmmcupcakes.
Best Group Dinner: Ping Pong, Washington DC—Chinatown, nouveau dim sum for post-game. Family and friends
Best Arena: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville—University of Louisville Hall of Fame, printed stats at half and game end, glass palace, live stats projected on the overhangs.
Best Park: Bryant Park, NYC—Semi-hidden, private jewel, chess and ping pong in the park. Bordered by the NYC Public Library.
Best City to Visit: Washington DC—Always great to come back to. An amalgamation of the blends of the US: Politics, culture and social awareness are always the topics of the day. History among us, but reality elsewhere.
Best Army: Devil’s Army, Newark—The Newark police need a tricked-out tank and Uzi’s for arena check-in lines.
Best Craft Beer: Great Lakes, Cleveland—Yes, Cleveland is the home of my favorite road craft. I hope the water in the “Burning River Pale Ale” wasn’t really from the Cuyahoga.
Best Roadside Attraction: Fair Oaks Farms, Indiana—A stop for gas leads to a cheese making tour, birthing barn and live milking demonstration in a giant complex. In a weird twist, Bears and ND safety, Dave Duerson, former owner, kills himself one month later. Odd America in the middle of nowhere. I just needed gas, but wound up with a cow udder apron.
Best Dive Bar: Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo Grill, Nashville—Vandy college crowd meets southern pick-up truck. A 72 beers on tap dank joint with Lanche-like accoutrements that is melded somehow with the new age, food court, Soul-Mexican-Healthy-BBQ menued, eclectic Mojo Grill. Huh? As mixed up as Lindsey Lohan.
Friendliest City: Nashville—A genuine politeness. Cleveland is a close second. Newark, a dead last, mainly because the jughandles.
Best Body of Water: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Central Park Reservoir, NYC—A Spring walk around in the quiet solace of the Big Apple.
Best Fan Experience: Buzz stands-bound, Cleveland—Where “Walk It Out” meets “Jump Around”. High fiving press row. Sweat hugging the fam and Fr. Wild.


Trying to explain Jae Crowder’s greatness

Jae Crowder was ranked as the 64th best player in the country by the new Basketball Prospectus (DJO was 41st). When I crunched the numbers last month for the several thousand Division I players who will be on the court, I ranked Crowder even higher as the 48th best.

For someone like me who studies the 8 key player stats at www.kenpom.com, Crowder’s greatness is readily apparent because he is simply great at almost everything. To simplify these 8 stats I sorted by each to show the percentile for each BCS player in each category so that the best 1% of BCS players at shooting were in the 100th percentile, and the worst 1% were in the 1st percentile, etc.

As great as I knew Crowder was, even I was shocked to find that he was the ONLY BCS player in the country that was in the 80th percentile or better in 6 of 8 key stats. Here is the table for all Marquette players, which has your typical breakdown of players who are great at blocking shots but terrible at assists, or vice versa, etc.

Jae Crowder100%62%43%81%81%83%80%88%
Davante Gardner64%95%18%88%98%5%66%67%
Chris Otule19%48%1%82%86%11%98%57%
Darius Johnson-Odom72%82%67%55%19%34%34%32%
Jake Thomas (RS)83%52%49%44%12%31%42%62%
Jamil Wilson31%13%40%21%75%39%79%68%
Vander Blue17%44%62%3%53%83%52%47%
Junior Cadougan2%48%91%7%17%31%21%23%

There were 18 other BCS players who were in the 80th+ percentile in 5 of the 8 categories, but you can argue that Crowder is statistically the most complete player in the country because he is not only phenomenal in 6 of 8 areas, but even in the other two is above average at drawing fouls and well above average for a front line player at assists. Here is the breakdown of the 8 categories:

The following walks through the eight things a player can do to win games (that we can measure). Crowder is …

1. GREATEST at not turning the ball over. This is the least known of the big 8 stats, but an offense can’t do anything else if the ball is turned over. Jae Crowder was in the 100th percentile of protecting the ball, only giving it up 8% of the time, meaning only Marcus Denman of Missouri and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin were better in all of D1 baskeball at protecting the ball.

2. GOOD at drawing fouls. Getting to the line is key, and this is one of only two categories at which Crowder was good but not great, as he was in the 62nd percentile. Davante was one of the best in the country (95th percentile) and DJO wasn’t far behind (82nd percentile).

3. GOOD at setting up a basket with an assist. This is the only of the eight where Crowder’s percentile was below an average BCS starter at the 43rd percentile, but he was over the 60th percentile among frontline players so he is a good assist man. Junior was in the 91st percentile in assist rate, a perfect traditional point guard if he cuts out the early season turnovers.

4. GREAT at hitting the shot. Crowder was in the 81st percentile shooting based on effective Field Goal percentage (treys count at 1.5 made), due to his ability to score at the hoop or from beyond the arc. Gardner and Otule were even better from the post, but Crowder’s number is even better than many centers who shoot form five feet and in most of the time.

5. GREAT at offensive rebounds. Likewise, when a shot is missed Crowder is better than even many centers – in the 81st percentile at grabbing the offensive rebound. Gardner was just a beast in the 98th percentile, while Otule was also excellent, and this is where Jamil Wilson could be so exciting – already registering in the 75th percentile of offensive rebounds in his freshman year at Oregon.

6. GREAT at steals. When we get to the defensive end of the court, the only two returning MU players who are above average at steals are Crowder and Blue, but they are both WAY above average at a phenomenal 83th percentile (Crowder was actually one spot ahead of Blue in the national rankings).

7. GREAT at blocking shots. If you can’t steal it, you can block the shot and Crowder is once again great in the 80th percentile in blocking shots. Another reason to get excited about Jamil is that he was in the 79th percentile his freshman season, so he was already a great shot blocker and offensive rebounder even before his red shirt year of working out last year. Of course, Otule was unreal, finishing in the 98th percentile in the percentage of opponents’ shots he blocked.

8. GREAT at defensive rebounds. Crowder is BY FAR our greatest defensive rebounders and one of the best in the country, ranking in the 88th percentile.

Is Crowder the best player in the country?


You can’t measure everything with stats, and some stats are more important than others, so you can’t weight these stats equally. Kemba Walker was one of 18 BCS players in the 80th+ percentile in 5 of the 8 categories, but when these are weighted in my Value Add system he is obviously better for the number of minutes he plays, the possessions he takes over, and his ability to put the ball in the hoop, even if he is not great at offensive or defensive rebounding, or shot blocking.

Since it’s baseball season for those of you who don’t live and breathe MU basketball all year like me, let me make a baseball analogy.

Jae Crowder = Craig Biggio

In the late 1990s, when Barry Bonds was clearly the greatest statistical player in the game, Bill James shocked everyone by saying that Craig Biggio was the 2nd best player in the NL. While everyone respected Biggio’s hard work and would love to have a guy who would give you a .300 batting average, 20 HRs and 80 RBIs a season, he hardly seemed to be one of the best two players in the league.

James explanation goes a long way to explaining Crowder’s greatness. James said that he usually ignored the league leaders in a lot of “little stats” like doubles and triples, being hit by pitches and stealing bases because by themselves they didn’t have a lot of impact.

However, Biggio was unique because he was near the league leaders in so many little stats, stealing 97 of 115 bases (84%) in 1997-98, leading the league in being hit by pitches and in doubles several times, etc., that when you added all of the “little things” he did to his triple crown numbers he was better than all of the great home run hitters of the era except Bonds:


Biggio was not as great a player as Bonds, who was hitting twice as many homers a year already to slug 100 points higher. Likewise, Crowder does more things well than Jared Sullinger, for example, but Sullinger is so dominant on both sets of boards and can take the game over so much of the time, that he is by far the best returning college player this year despite being excellent in 4 of 8 key stats vs. 6 of 8 for Crowder.

However, Crowder’s greatness is among the best in the country, and hopefully he won’t go down as one of the most underrated players by our fan base as they come to appreciate all of the things he does.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Marquette Non-Conference Schedule Finalized

Marquette finalized their scheduling for the non-conference portion of the season today. And with the Big East having already announced mirror games as well as home and away opponents for all of their teams, we have an excellent idea of what the upcoming season will look like. First of all, let's take a look at the non-conference portion of the schedule. Capsules of most of the non-conference opponents can be found here and here.

  • Fri. Nov. 11: Mount St. Mary's (H)
  • Mon. Nov. 14: Norfolk State (H)
  • Fri. Nov. 18: Winthrop (N)
  • Sat. Nov. 19 or Sun. Nov. 20: Mississippi or Drake (N)
  • Mon. Nov. 21: TBA (N)
  • Mon. Nov. 28: Jacksonville (H)
  • Sat. Dec. 3: Wisconsin (A)
  • Tues. Dec. 6: Washington (N)
  • Sat. Dec. 10: UW-Green Bay (H)
  • Sat. Dec. 17: Northern Colorado (H)
  • Mon. Dec. 19: LSU (A)
  • Thurs. Dec. 22: UW-Milwaukee (H)
  • Thurs. Dec. 29: Vanderbilt (H)
While some season-ticket holders may be a bit disappointed at only seeing 7 home dates on the schedule, it's safe to say that this year's quality far outweighs past years' quantity. Vanderbilt, UW-Milwaukee, Northern Colorado, Jacksonville, and even Mount St. Mary's could challenge for NCAA bids. And while they aren't juggernauts on paper, both UW-Green Bay and Norfolk State bring in potential stud big men in Alec Brown and Kyle O'Quinn. The Paradise Jam is a tournament Marquette should win, while Washington will provide a tourney-level test and environment in early December. On the road, Wisconsin and LSU will both be tough opposition (expect the Tigers to be much improved). The Warriors have a tough slate, but it's smartly designed and should yield at least an 11-2 record, and possibly even better.

To wrap this up, we'll look at Marquette's home and away opponents for the Big East schedule.

  • Home: Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, South Florida, Villanova
  • Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
There's definitely good and bad in this schedule. The good is that we get preseason favorites Louivsille and Pittsburgh at the BC. While we have to travel to Connecticut and Syracuse, the other likely favorites, we have beaten UConn twice on the road in the past two years and played much better against Syracuse last year than we did in years past. The bad is that we have one of the toughest runs of mirror opponents. Cincinnati returns much of last year's team and could be a surprise to crack the top four this year. While both Georgetown and Villanova will likely be down next year, we are only 2-6 against those two teams on the road since joining the Big East. As Andy Katz pointed out, however, the good news is that the Big East scheduling committee wouldn't have given us such tough mirror games unless they consider us contenders for the title.

Bring on the 2011-12 season!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marquette's PR Nightmare

It seems like a lifetime ago, but I used to work in television news here in Milwaukee. I was a huge fan of Alderman Michael McGee, not because I agreed with him, but because every time he stepped in front of a microphone, he gave us a story. McGee was constantly making controversial, borderline racist, or simply stupid comments that made him a newsman's dream. Then he was arrested for racketeering and sent to prison, which was great for his constituents but disappointing for the media.

The reason I mention this is because over the past few months, Marquette's handling of the October sexual harassment/assault case has felt like this. Every time the University has proverbially gotten in front of a microphone, they've kept the story alive and ended up with more egg on their face. The admission of a history of law-breaking, the resignation of Cottingham being directly linked to the incident, and Buzz being put into an interview about the topic while being handcuffed as to what he could say.

At the same time, Marquette was being lambasted in the media by District Attorney John Chisholm, the Chicago Tribune, and Journal-Sentinel writer Michael Hunt. I don't intend this article to kick Marquette while they are down. The situation was handled poorly, I don't think even Marquette would deny that right now. But there are lessons to be learned here, both in terms of the past and the future.

Marquette's error was not getting out in front of the story. Here's how they could have better handled it:

  • Come out with a statement in March when the story was first breaking online announcing that DPS made a thorough investigation but that it has now been forwarded to MPD and all future inquiries should go there.
  • If the policy needed to be revised, so be it, but do it under the auspices of helping students rather than admitting a history of law-breaking, especially as it doesn't seem to be illegal to not report a crime you don't believe happened.
  • Ask Cottingham to stay around until the end of the year so he can assist in the search for a replacement and to distance his departure from the incident.
  • Don't have anyone speak on the incident if they aren't adding to the discussion.
  • When criticism comes, weather the storm. Cottingham's resignation in light of the Tribune article and Buzz's interview right after the Hunt editorial only led to further criticism.
Going forward, two things have become evident. First, Marquette needs to improve their ability to manage crises. Whether they create an internal department to handle situations like this or hire an outside public relations firm, Marquette can't simply get by with good intentions because in the age of a 24/7 news cycle, their intentions will be twisted and interpreted in a way that makes for the best (read: worst) headline.

Second, Marquette needs to conduct a thorough nationwide search for Cottingham's replacement. With the media scrutiny major programs are under, negative publicity will come again. In addition, conference realignment, television contracts, and growth of the Marquette brand are all things that have to be considered in the coming years. The ideal candidate should have experience in PR, law, media, and sports. It won't be an easy process, and it shouldn't be a quick one. That doesn't mean the hire can't ultimately be someone with Marquette ties, or even in-house, but the impression given has to be that there is a new sheriff in town.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Top 10 MU overachievers in the pros, and vice versa

Thanks to houwarrior for presenting a great question on MUScoop of who had the best MU college careers vs. pro careers. I wanted to systematically try to answer his question, as well as the reverse - who came out of nowhere to overachieve in the NBA.

One point I try to always drill home is that there are 4500 Division I players every year and thousands more in Europe and only about 50 of them make it to the NBA every year. So there are thousands of great college players who don't make the pros, and even most who do don't average double figures. In fact, Dwyane Wade and Wesley Matthews are two of only seven MU players to ever average double figures in the NBA, so even making it and playing over 400 games as a defensive specialist who doesn't score much (see Tony Smith and Jim McIlvaine) puts you in very select company.

I ranked the top 40 pro careers of MU players - mostly NBA but then added a few strong European/D-League players at the end of the rankings, and then compared those 40 pro careers to how I ranked the same 40 players for their MU careers.

MU players who were even better in the pros

If Jimmy Butler lives up to the Bulls expectations and is even still playing in five years, he will be the greatest pro surprise in MU history. Obviously I am somewhat guessing on Lazar Hayward and Jimmy's potential careers, conservatively just projected they play a few years each on the bench that would still put them in the top 20 of all MU pro careers, but even with that conservative approach, Butler would rank as one of the top surprises with just the 33rd best career among the MU pros.

RnkPro RankMU RankFirstLastComments
11635ChrisCrawford1663 pts in injury shortened career
21230SteveNovakone of longest pro careers
3521Glen (Doc)Rivers864 games most, 1 of 7 to ave. double figures
41933Jimmy ButlerIf he plays at least 5 years will rank #1 on this list
52434AmalMcCaskill114 NBA games
62939TomCopasurprise late emergence for 33 NBA games
7412WesleyMatthewsbiggest surprise to non-MU fans
81119JimMcIlvaine1 of 10 to log 400 NBA games, def specialist
9916TonySmithsame as McIlvaine
10814JeromeWhitehead697 games ranks 4th

So overall I rank Jimmy with a slightly better MU career than Chris Crawford (33rd of the 40 for Jimmy compared to 35th for Crawford). As good as Crawford was for MU, right now I have him as the biggest overachiever in the pros, and if he wasn't sidelined prematurely with back issues, he really may have built a nice career with a few thousand points.

Wesley Matthews is the best player on this list, and should eventually nudge out Doc Rivers as the 4th best pro to come out of MU, but he was pretty darn great at Marquette so he is not as much an overachiever based on his MU career.

MU players who were better in college than the pros

I do believe Jerel McNeal is the player with the biggest gap in the other direction - one of the top 10 college players in the country according to the AP (2nd team All-American), but so far hasn't been on the court for an NBA game. But I hope he is remembered long-term like Bo Ellis is, he did wonders at MU even if his NBA career is short or he doesn't make it at all, but hopefully he repeats a Tom Copa and keeps at it until he breaks through.

RnkPro RankMU RankFirst nameLastComments
1369JerelMcNeal10 games on NBA bench, so let's hope
2253Alfred (Butch)LeeJust 96 games after POY at MU
3202Maurice (Bo)EllisJust 168 games after AA career
43922DominicJamesNice numbers in Turkey
52111TerryRanddrafted by Lakers, but outbid by Industrial League
62213DaveQuabiusplayed for NBA team before league formed
73123BernardToone23 NBA games
8105DeanMeminger416 games solid
93025MichaelWilson32 NBA games
103732TonyMillerdominant Euro player for 12 years

Tony Miller and Kerry Trottier were two of the most dominant European players, but I rank the European standouts behind anyone who played any games in the NBA.

I believe the best 10 MU players to never play in the NBA (though I could have missed a great Euro career for any of these), were (in order); Gary Brell, Aaron Hutchins, Walt Mangham, Ric Cobb, Ron Curry, Marcus Washington, Brian Wardle, Damon Key, Russ Wittberger and Robert Jackson.

20 of the 40 were about the same in the NBA

But really, 20 of the 40 players ranked within a few spots of their MU perforamce based on their pro careers. Dwyane Wade was the best MU player and is the best pro player to come out of MU, etc.

Pro RankMU RankFirst nameLastComments
11DwyaneWadethe best at MU & in NBA
27MauriceLucasgrabbed NBA title, just behind Rivers in games
34GeorgeThompson18.6 ppg 2nd to Wade if count ABA
68DonKojisNBA All-Star, 3rd in games
76JimChones623 games, solid though not star
1310EarlTatum9.6 ppg is 11th best
1418TravisDienerSolid few years
1517LarryMcNeil297 games, 8.5 ppg solid
1720LloydWalton341 games
1815LazarHaywardjust signed for 3rd year
2324EdMullen5 yrs pro before NBA
2626BobLackey5.8 ppg
2727SamWorthen1st round, but just 69 games
2828JoeThomas39 games
3229GeneBerceone of 1st NBA players
3338BrianBrunkhorstscored a few NBA points
3431AllieMcGuiregot in a couple of games
3540BillDowneygot in a couple of games
3837KerryTrotterave. 30+ per game as European MVP twice
4036CordellHenrystrong Euro player

So really overall players have been about as good as would be expected overall. Sure, some great college players skills translate better to the pros than others (Wesley and Jimmy have NBA bodies, while Jerel is short for a 2 and Dominic may not be long enough), but let's remember all these guys for the memories they gave us on the court in Milwaukee or the pride they brought to us when being announced, "from Marquette University ..." before NBA games.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Milwaukee Pro-Am: First Impressions

It was great getting out to Jim Ganzer's Milwaukee Pro-Am at Greenfield High School last night. I really think this event has the potential to become one of those hallmarks of the season that we all look forward to, just like Marquette Madness or Buzz's BBQ. It was great to finaly get a chance to see some of these guys playing, to see how they look in the midst of the offseason, and what the new guys have to offer. I primarily looked at Marquette guys, and here are some thoughts.

Junior Cadougan: Last year's Pro-Am MVP looked better yesterday than he did when I saw him at Homestead a year ago. Cadougan showed range out to three, and was fairly consistent both hitting jumpers and when he would drive to the hole. His court-vision was spectacular as well. He was comfortable and confident on the ball. Junior punctuated his day with a beautiful steal, drive, and dunk that brought cheers from the crowd. Easily the best player I watched.

Chris Otule: Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with him. Last year he was much more of an offensive player in the games I saw, but he contributed little on the offensive end outside of a few put-backs. He altered some shots but wasn't the defensive presence I expected, though it is the Pro-Am. Hopefully CO will show more in the coming weeks.

Jake Thomas: The South Dakota transfer has incredible range. At one point, he hit a three that was from about the same range as the three Steve Novak hit against UConn. Thomas was probably the hardest-working guy I watched. I realize he's a walk-on, but I think he will be a great practice body this year, and he can hit the open three. He's a D1 player.

Juan Anderson: The first thing that struck me is that Anderson is taller than advertised. Looking at him next to Keaton Nankivil and Otule, I'd say he's 6'8". He's also very athletic and is one of the most creative passers I've ever seen. Anyone who has seen his highlights has watched some of the incredible dishes he hands off. He had a few like that on Friday. However, he will need to add 15-20 pounds of muscle before he becomes a major contributor.

Vander Blue: Probably the most disappointing guy I watched. While he did hit a three, he still had a bit of a hitch in his shot and missed more than he made. He was running the point and did have a good chemistry with Jamail Jones, but I still want to see more out of him.

Jamail Jones: Wow, what a shooter. Jones was hitting everything outside. At one point he made four threes in five trips, and while I didn't watch all of his game, it was clear that he is a very good shooter. Even more impressive was his muscular physique. In the shoulders, Jones is now wider than Davante Gardner. He's freakishly chiseled.

Davante Gardner: First of all, his body transformation is incredible. He is much thinner than he was last year, and it's made a huge difference. Last year at the Pro-Am, Gardner struggled to get up and down the court at times, this year he seemed to have a near-endless motor. He was quick to the ball, managed to get some steals, and was even getting out in front on the fast break. He also showed off his range, making a few threes. The only negative is that he spent too much time ranging out to the perimeter on both ends of the court. But with his new physique, his improved stamina, and his ability to be an offensive threat both inside and out, Buzz won't be able to keep him off the floor. He looked very good.

Jamil Wilson: Wilson just looks like a player. He's really long and athletic. He is a pretty good outside shooter, can defend inside and out, but I didn't see much post-up game from him. He's often going to be a physical mismatch inside and could really use some post moves.

Other Thoughts:

  • Dwight Buycks is killing it as he likely pursues a European contract. He's averaged 44.5 ppg over the first weekend of the tourney. This kind of event is perfect for a guy like him to showcase his skills, and I wish him luck in his pursuit of playing pro ball.
  • While he's not playing, DJO is at the Pro-Am. Like many, he was walking between the gyms to watch his teammates. Glad to see him leading from the sidelines.
  • The best non-Marquette guy I watched was undoubtedly Miles McKay of Whitewater. How on earth is he not a D1 player? He scored every way possible and had 27 in the first half alone.
  • Finally, I spoke to Buzz Williams for about 5 minutes on the way out. Not surprisingly I asked him about the schedule for next year. He said that the problem with last year's schedule was that the high end was really high and the low end was too low. Next year, the high end is still high, but the low end has come up, maybe a bit too much. It's clear Buzz won't be taking any of their opponents lightly.
Well, that's it for my night at the Pro-Am. I'll try to get back over the next few weeks and bring some more thoughts. And another thanks to Jim Ganzer for putting this on. It's tremendous fun for the fans and players, and I heavily encourage anyone in the Milwaukee area to get out there if they have the chance.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Warrior Travels: Epilogue

“We find that after years of struggle we do not take a journey, but rather a journey takes us”

The journey was long and exhausting, starting with the optimism of the unseasonably, warm weather at the steps of winter and ending with the promise of a new, budding spring—booking-ending a bitter, harsh winter of discontent. The path took me to places that will continue to live this same journey well after NCAA fans’ departures from them. Each city visited was filled with a vibrancy built on its own local civic pride despite the toughest of economic circumstances. Each was fueled by a “stick-to-itiveness” not shown on the dour national news, each scratching the ground for a few pieces of grain to feed off of until conditions improve. And NCAA basketball gave them that hope—where there was little to be found--to keep on keeping on. It is the kind of hope that our large corporations and big governments have lost—afraid to journey out of their boardrooms and caucuses, only talking to and about themselves.

I enjoyed discovering “Marquette America”, finding it to be in a very different place than I thought back in September. The extreme ups and downs of the season matched the cities that hosted the Golden Eagles—getting knocked down and picking themselves up time after time, lost and looking for their identity, finding a way. I met multiple generations of Warriors, each with a different story and passion built on faith and lifetimes of basketball memories—loyal to their school to the bitter end, yet critical to the standard that they want upheld. Donors who give plenty, but get much more in return. A committed and friendly athletics department, the families and friends of the players so prideful, and wearing their emotions on their sleeves…and the tremendous devotion of the players and basketball staff, who give it their all for their school so that the fans can escape reality for a few memorable game moments that will be stretched a lifetime.

The old steelworks of Steinbeck’s day have been replaced by the glass and aluminum arenas--each being the cornerstone of an urban rebirth, the wishbone of a fallen city’s future. Entertainment districts, museums and hotels rely on these new-aged, painted ladies for their livelihoods. Somehow, some way these cities have been able to keep their original uniqueness and heritage, rebuilding with hope from within: The Kansas City BBQ, the Nashville two-step, the Louisville Sluggers, the Washington Monuments, the Cleveland Rock ‘n Roll Reinvention and the Newark Hustle. As Steinbeck found in his travels, each place I visited has its differentiating qualities. Likewise, each has a hard-edge that makes it tough to love. However, it is the people and their unsinkable spirit of hope that is the basis of their endearment.

After the soul crushing loss in Louisville, one born of a total collapse of Chernobyl proportions, our coach, Buzz Williams, like Barkeep Jen and Mayor Booker and so many others I met along the way, stepped out and found a way to gather the day with a message of hope and optimism when there wasn’t any to be visibly found (as relayed in the Louisville Courier-Journal):

“...And then there was Patrick Bouldin. The die-hard U of L fan always watched Marquette games with his friend and MU alum Doug Burchett, until Burchett died of brain cancer in 2009 at age 38. On Sunday, Bouldin was in the KFC Yum! Center with Burchett's 7-year-old son, Ryan.

Bouldin has seen all the U of L-Marquette thrillers, the Jerry Smith, Reece Gaines and Francisco Garcia last-second heroics, as well as those of Dameon Mason. He watched Steve Novak and Dwyane Wade break his heart. But he had never experienced anything like watching his beloved Cardinals come back, with a 7-year-old beside him tearing up. Bouldin had a confession to make. As much as he loves U of L, he wasn't cheering the comeback. “I was cheering for MU for Ryan's sake, telling him things like Terrence Jennings was a bad free-throw shooter (as he then did his best Milt Wagner impression),” Bouldin wrote. “Ryan quietly hid his face in the sleeve of his jacket and cried as U of L won and the crowd went nuts.” The story has a nice ending, though. Bouldin had arranged for Marquette coach Buzz Williams to meet Ryan after the game, and after such a heartbreaking loss, he worried that there was no way that would happen. But afterward, despite it all, here came Williams to shake Ryan's hand, smiling and talking to the two, even arranging for him to have pictures made with Marquette players.”

Anyone who thinks that college basketball is just a game that starts and ends with a horn blast needs to pack up their hobo bindle and hop the next box car out of town to experience the hope of the New Americans, to put the “Age of Instant Criticism” behind them, to rediscover their Warrior self. It is about love stories, friendships, hobbies, livelihoods, parent pride, families, stewardship, civics, emotions, competition, faith, memories, care giving, connectivity, community, laughter, anger, tears and tattooed-faced smiles of a child. “Marquette America” is alive and well, leaving a drop of Warrior hope at every stop along the way. We are Marquette! And, I thank you all for every minute of it.

"Epilogue" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Warrior Travels, Chapter 6, Brick City

"A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ."

Newark is a hardened, shattered city. It is nicknamed the Brick City after the many brick homes, although urban lore says this moniker came from an infestation of crack bricks. Mayor Cory Booker is utilizing unending optimism to try to reverse a decades-long urban slide (as shown in the Sundance Channel’s documentary series by the city’s nickname). Its one asset is land-locked Manhattan: the alternative airport, the transportation infrastructure, and the available real estate give the politicians something to build on. The Rock has been the cornerstone of these efforts, trying to draw in entertainment dollars from the metropolitan area and beyond. The NCAA East Regional would be another national showcase opportunity. Sadly, Newark’s nickname would foreshadow things to come for Marquette, however.

It is too easy to be a critic today, everyone has a digital voice to immediately pronounce to the world what is wrong, myself included. A videogame mentality is a major part of the “New America”. This is the “Age of Instant Criticism”. However, tweeting or blogging about Newark’s or Buzz Williams’ problems only gets you so far toward solving the actual problems, as all it does is add more angst to the discussion. The tough part is to stir the pot of optimism and hope to “Be the Difference”.

Arriving via a LaGuardia shuttle at the Newark Liberty Airport on Thursday, March 24th, my mood was very upbeat about Marquette’s chances against North Carolina. MU was hot, playing on a familiar Big East court against a team that was not as good on the road/at neutral sites. However, the Tar Heels had the clear match-up advantage, especially on the frontline—which usually comes more into play on the second weekend of the tournament. That said, figuring out the match-ups in this game was much easier than figuring out the New Jersey jug handles. I fly into Newark about ten times a year, but I somehow wind up lost at the Newark Port after exiting the airport 100% of the time—and GPS is of no help.

After the LaGuardia airport shuttle, with a transfer to the Newark airport tram, to the hotel shuttle terminal, to the hotel bus, to the hotel, I checked into my room. Welcome to Newark! After I unpacked, I headed to the lobby bar to grab some dinner and a few beers while I watched the Thursday night NCAA games. Some Kentucky Boys were lined up on the back wall drinking their Buds and looking uncomfortably out of place in the big city—their team did not in the end.

Game Day Friday rose in the East. After some work and a late breakfast, I headed to the team hotel to meet a friend for lunch followed by the MU Pep Rally. The East Coast alumni and their families were out en masse as the entire hotel ballroom was ablaze in blue and gold. The Rachael Ray Show was there to film a segment called “The Final Fork”, featuring Famous Marquette Potters Beans by the superb MU Jamie. The fans then set up a two-sided spirit tunnel in the hallway to send off the players as they boarded the bus. Amidst rumors of other suitors, there was no Buzz with the team. Frankly, it was an odd situation as all the conversation was on the coach and not the game. As we waited for the bus caravan to load, I made a stop in the men’s room. Upon exit, there was Buzz right next to me as he popped off the elevator, with Steve Cottingham lingering. Hmmm…I wonder who was doing the talking?

The MU bus caravan was long and spirited. MU’s pre-game meeting place was the Brick City Bar & Grill, right next to the arena. The turnout was massive, making it nearly impossible to get a pre-game drink. And, with the NCAA’s self-imposed dry dock inside the arena, I would have to watch tonight’s games uneuthanized. More so, we had to go through a tight security ring to even get into the arena: A tank, Uzi’s, a hand wand and a full metal detector before I even gave an usher my ticket. Strange days indeed.

For the first seven+ minutes, the Warriors hung tough with the #2 seed Tar Heels, but then Marquette went stone cold. The resulting debacle, while bad, was to be eventually surpassed by Butler in the National Championship game. However, at that point in time, the emotional high of Cleveland felt decades away. The fans were Northeast Corridor brutal, screaming for scholarships to be revoked and coaches to be fired. Frankly, it was harsh and some alum parents bravely shouted for these few to calm down in front of their young kids as the bad spell continued. I was hoping there were no prideful student-athlete parents within earshot. The optimism of the pep rally was fleeting, replaced by the arid team shooting. I took it all in with silence, my soul sinking with every possession. Brick City it was.

MU won the 2nd half, but UNC’s dimmer was lowered after the break. I stuck around for the Ohio State vs. Kentucky match-up, which Kentucky won on a last second shot. Although this was a great game, I was still half into it after the earlier flat tire, sitting there in the down MU section. To quote Eeyore: "It's bad enough being miserable, but it is even worse when everyone else claims to be miserable, too.”

I woke up the next morning to a sunny spring day. It was off to NYC on New Jersey Transit to meet a business associate for lunch at Rocky’s in Little Italy. The Big Apple was alive, and vibrancy was being celebrated on every corner. We had a nice, long Italian lunch at Rocky’s, savoring all the five senses that Little Italy has to offer: the leisurely table talk, the garlic smells, the blended tastes, the people watching and the feel of a glass of Chianti. Perfetto!

After lunch, it was time to walk and subway around Manhattan. We did the tourist thing to check out the bustle of Times Square. Then we grabbed some coffee at Bryant Park, a beautiful urban enclave. Then it was over to Central Park to walk the jogging trail at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, taking in all the early spring day had to offer.

On the train ride back, my soul felt refurbished. The UNC Cold Winter 1st half had been forgotten. In its place were the sweet, surprising memories of Cleveland—where the fanbase came totally together, and the critics among us were quieted. It was a phenomenal up and down run, and the indefatigable spirit of post-911 New York was a great ending point to this Marquette journey.

Back in Newark, I watched Kentucky finish off UNC to earn Coach Cal’s first legitimate Final 4 the next night. These two basketball royalty schools expect to be in this spot every year, something that the Buzz Generation Warriors aspire to achieve--in a Rising Phoenix resolve similar to the host city’s mayor: “Newark is still showing signs of hope and promise and quite frankly doing some things other cities don't do," Booker said. Hope springs eternal, even in Newark, as my Warrior outlook now turned to the promise of next season.

"Brick City" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Warrior Travels: Chapter 5, The Forest City

"And I am sure that, as all pendulums reverse their swing, so eventually will the swollen cities rupture like dehiscent wombs and disperse their children back to the countryside. This prophecy is underwritten by the tendency of the rich to do this already. Where the rich lead, the poor will follow, or try to."

In the most recent census, Cleveland’s population had dropped 17% since 2000, putting its size at a level not seen since the turn of two centuries past. Even LeBron James decided to hightail it out of town, choosing to kick the city in the proverbial nuts with his national TV denouncement on his way to SoBe. The “Forest City” cannot seem to catch a break, but somehow those holding out for “The Last Stand” are hanging hopefully on. Jen, the hotel barkeep, wants to take a leave to do charity work in Africa, but is afraid her job won’t be here when she returns. Between Great Lakes pints and a surge of St. Patrick’s Day revelers, I try to tell her a bartender’s job can be found anywhere, but she seems oblivious to this reasoning as she moves down the bar rail. She has roots it seems and doesn’t want to give up a career with this national hotel chain. She has a dream, and it involves this city.

Walking down the near-deserted streets the next morning, I notice there are few trees in the “Forest City”. The lakefront is “planes, trains and automobiles”. As I walk past the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” and the Browns Stadium, I hear the hopeful sound of jackhammers. A massive convention center is sprouting up. I continue my walk and come upon the historic Warehouse District, a rehabbed entertainment and living area that “resprung” up to replace the crumbling Flats. Heading away from the lake, I find The Q, the site of the NCAA Round 2 & 3 games. Abutting Quicken Arena is Progressive Field, home of the MLB Indians. This newer sports complex is buttressed by the East 4th Street Entertainment District. In another day, I swing by the Market District to check out the Great Lakes Brewery, and I hear and see of an attempted rebirth of another downtown neighborhood. It becomes clear to me that the “Forest” has now become a euphemism for the city planners’ attempt to nourish and grow Barkeep’s Jen’s roots she so passionately describes. As the NCAA fans stream into the city now, the pendulum of hope appears to be swinging back in Cleveland’s favor.

Later on Game Day Friday, I ran into a group of George Mason basketball fans at the hotel bar for lunch, many of whom I am now best friends with from the night before—although I cannot seem to remember their names, except for their unofficial mascot, Father Peter, the GMU priest who is also on Facebook and Twitter. They were definitely the most spirited fans in Cleveland, and certainly the bar friendliest. Barkeep Jen was raking in the quid today as the high priestess of the NCAA basketball TV viewing altar. The Masonites were about to head to The Q to witness their team’s upset of Villanova, and as it turned out, Coach Jim Larranaga’s last win with the Patriots.

For me, it was on to the Marquette pep rally at the team hotel where I picked up my tickets and mixed it up with the well-heeled alumni, school officials, and for the first time on the road, students, before sending the team off with some stylin’. Then, it was on to the Ohio State dominated bars to meet up with some in and out of town friends for a pre-game.

In the season’s third “Battle of the Jesuits”—all played on the road under my witness— it was my 11th seed Marquette Warriors versus the 6th seed Xavier Musketeers (again, with the violent Jesuit nicknames). To this point in the season, MU was 0-2 against Ignatians and 5-6 against the Catholics. I was ten “Our Father’s” optimistic on this one, though.

But, who did Jesus favor in this town called Purgatory? The answer: Jimmy F Butler carried the “Cross of Gold” by completely shutting down Tu Holloway, the Crean refugee and the A-10 Player of the Year. This game was Marquette’s best defensive performance of the year, and they won going away--perhaps putting some doubters to rest. It was Marquette’s first NCAA win since 2009, ending Xavier’s streak of three, straight Sweet 16’s.

In the last game of the night, Syracuse trampled Indiana State, setting up a Big East rematch. The cocksure Orange Julius fans were assuring a trollop over the 11th place conference foe in the Round of 32. MU fans were still a bit shaky, to tell the truth.

On Saturday, I did some sightseeing, and then met up with some friends at the Cleveland Chop House to watch the NCAA games on HDTV. I ordered the Top Sirloin and an Irish Red as we watched the games on the rail. Regulars kept coming in and toasting Mike the Bartender, but I could not quite figure out why. What I found interesting was that this was a national chain, a type of place locals don’t usually hang at—a place that normally blanches any remnant of personality out of a joint. As Mike served my meal, I asked him “what was the occasion?” He said, “thanks for asking, but I just got engaged last night after my shift”, and he went on to describe the whole proposal set-up with pride. Apparently, he “Facebooked” all this, and the Mike Regulars swarmed in to wish him well, share a toast, and hear his story live. The games, the company, the sirloin, the Irish Reds and Bartender Mike’s hope made my day…and many others. Cleveland was making me more Milwaukee confident…to tell the truth.

Sunday started off with the Father Peter “underdog mass” in the hotel ballroom. Brunch followed at the Barley House in the Warehouse District, where I again hooked up with my atheist friends. Besides the Barley Girls, the Bloody Mary’s and Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese were great post-Eucharist/pre-NCAA morning starters. The highlight, though, was, hmmm, the posters over the urinals: A model with a faux, split-fingered hand mask. Another had a model with a sly, doubting look on her face, overlooking the male guest at the porcelain monument. I chose, matter-of-factly, the low well under the model with a tape measure. Thank goodness for that liquid courage to set the record straight.

Mike Ditka often gets philosophical. When he does, it usually starts with: “Sometimes in life, gang”… or something like that in “tough-as-a fender” talk. Well, I was now “Mike Ditka” sure of a Marquette victory over the Orangemen as I met friends at the pep rally. Why? I don’t know…but it is usually something in the air, an intuition that just overcomes me. Normally, even against a “Wisconsin State Fair Creampuff, I am a nervous wreck before a game. However, I was a very “detached confident” against Syracuse for some reason. I was just determined to enjoy the ride. It was a bit out-of-body.

Sitting amongst Marquette player families and girlfriends, I witnessed the nerves, parental pride, and the Marquette spiritual happy ending as the Warriors, emphasis on Warriors, clutched it out via the Jae and DJO treys to beat the Syracuse Metal Heads in a national, but not Milwaukee, stunner. Unfortunately, my GMU friends got the spanking machine in the opener, but Father Peter had done his Catholic duty for the good guys. The Sweet 16 Surprise provided the season-nightcap that the MU fans had expected, deep-down, all along. The Buzzer went stand-bounds to cap off one of the top highlights in Marquette’s basketball history. After high-fiving the Cleveland police force at the exit, it was on to Local Heroes to savor it all with the Marquette Faithful—at least those who didn’t drive back through the night. The pendulum had swung, baby!

"The Forest City" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.