USA TODAY US Edition
JuCo bond ties Marquette coach, players
Williams likes unspoiled type
Marquette coach Buzz Williams and his band of “jukes” will try to take the next step Friday in what’s been a surprisingly successful March after a win- ter of ups and downs and worry in the Big East.
Those worrisome days on the bubble seem long ago now.
The Golden Eagles (22-14) will take the same attitude into their matchup with secondseeded North Carolina in Newark that they had last weekend in Cleveland, where they upset sixth-seeded Xavier and No. 3 Syracuse.
Marquette’s pedigree might not look as distinguished as those of the other teams in this weekend’s East Regional, but Williams, whose background is similar to that of several of his players, probably wouldn’t have it any other way.
Five Golden Eagles, including their four leading scorers — guards Darius Johnson-Odom and Dwight Buycks and forwards Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder — are junior college transfers. So is forward Joseph Fulce.
Williams, who started as a student assistant from 1990 to 1992 at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, knows not every junior college transfer has the same story to tell and that people attend junior colleges for various reasons.
They might bring a certain edginess to the court, however, which their coach admires.
“I like guys that have had to ride in 15-passenger vans,” Williams says. “I like guys that when they order, they just use a number. ‘I’d like No. 2, the combo meal.’
“I think recruiting, as things have evolved, tends to spoil kids. And within the culture that I coach in on a daily basis, spoiled kids really struggle with dealing with me.”
If the junior college transfers aren’t accustomed to having things handed to them, that goes right along with what the season has been like for the Golden Eagles, who are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since Dwyane Wade led Marquette to the Final Four in 2003.
The Eagles were 18-13 with their postseason plans much in doubt after losing at Seton Hall in the last game of the regular season. They were seeded 11th in the Big East tournament, but victories against Providence and West Virginia before a loss to Louisville in the quarterfinals helped to secure the 11th seed in the regional.
Once in the field, Marquette has made the most of its chance, much the same as its players did when given opportunities.
“What makes this team special is you have a lot of guys that really have to work for a lot of stuff,” says Crowder, the national junior college player of the year last season at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas. “Coming out of high school, things weren’t given to us. So we understand hard work — the real definition of hard work. So you put those guys together, you’re going to get a great ballclub.”
Butler says Williams’ coaching ability wasn’t the only thing that sold him on Marquette’s program.
“Buzz is a really great coach, but it’s not always about basketball with him,” Butler says. “He’s real big on life. After basketball, you know, what are you going to do? And he just wants to make sure that we’re the best father and the best husband that we can be in the future.
“With a coach like that, who thinks way further ahead than just basketball, that’s real big. Because everybody wants to be the best at what they could possibly be in life.”
And Williams, like any coach, knows success on the court starts with getting special players, regardless of where they’re from.
“All of those guys were junior college All-Americans,” Williams says. “And Jae was national player of the year. So we’ve signed pretty good players.
“I think they’re more apt to identify with where I’m from because I was on that same path that they were. I just wasn’t a player.”
Marquette, however, has become a player this spring. Now, the Golden Eagles want to take one more trip — next week to Houston.
That one won’t require a 15passenger van, just two more victories.