This is the second of ten posts revealing the ten Marquette nominees for the SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame. These are in no particular order, except for the particular order they're in.
Call him what you like - Travis, "Spike", "The Teenage Assassin", A cocky SOB - one moniker that no one will be able to dispute when it comes to Travis Diener is "one helluva basketball player." We here at Anonymous Eagle would like to add one more title to Diener's resume: SBN Wisconsin Hall of Famer. Why, you ask? Well let's take a look:
First, he's a Wisconsin boy done good. If you're going to be in a Wisconsin Hall of Fame, it's always a good start to actually be from Wisconsin. Diener comes from the royal family of Wisconsin prep basketball. He played for his uncle Dick at Fond du Lac Goodrich High School. His cousins Drew and Drake both played Division I college hoops. And then there's his uncle Tom, who just happens to be the most decorated coach in the history of Wisconsin high school basketball. Travis took a little bit of heat in high school for being home schooled for a year after 8th grade. Critics said the extra year gave him an unfair advantage in sports. I know this first hand because my wife, a Kaukauna HS alum, still rolls her eyes and shakes her head every time his name is brought up. In fact when I made her guess who I was writing about for this little feature, she responded "Ugh, not him." Italics = extra disgust. Whatever he learned in that extra year at home school, it totally worked. Diener was a 3-time All-Conference performer, and was named conference player of the year twice. His senior year he led Goodrich to a 22-2 mark, en route to a unanimous All-State Team selection. Diener came to Marquette as a consensus top 50 recruit; being ranked as high as #37 by one recruiting service.
At Marquette Diener was a major contributor from the minute he walked on campus. His freshman year he played in all 33 games, started 3, averaged over 23 minutes a game and led the team in 3-point shooting. In fact his .442 3-point percentage not only led the team, but led all of Conference USA and earned him a spot on the All-Freshmen Team.
As a sophomore Diener emerged as the on-floor leader of a team that would win Marquette's first and only CUSA regular season title, and eventually make it all the way to the Final Four. He scored 11.8 points per game, and led the team with 5.6 assists a game. I think that if someone had the ability and, more importantly, the time, they could make about a half-hour long highlight reel of nothing but Diener outlet passes to Wade in transition that ended up in dunks or other amazing finishes. And just in case anyone doubted that Diener was clutch, he poured in a career high 29 points against Holy Cross in the first round of the '03 NCAA Tournament. He calmly drained 9 of 14 shots, including five 3's, while everyone else in the RCA Dome wearing blue and gold that morning (including yours truly) was soiling themselves at the thought of being bounced by a 14 seed. I know that when I think of my favorite Diener games, that one is always at the top of the list.
With Wade departing for the pros after '03, it became undisputedly Travis Diener's team. He led the team in scoring (18.8 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg), en route to first team All-Conference USA selection in '03-'04. Despite those numbers however, the team was not able to secure an NCAA Tourney berth. But that all figured to change in '04-'05. Now a senior, and with a seemingly improved supporting cast, this figured to be the year that Diener led Marquette back to the Big Dance. Those hopes were never higher than they were after the Golden Eagles topped arch-nemesis Wisconsin at the Bradley Center that December. All of the talk leading up to that game was centered around the two stars, Diener for MU and Mike Wilkinson for UW. Both came in with injuries. Both would play through the pain, with vastly different results. Diener, whose toughness was now approaching legendary status (sometimes it almost seemed like he played better hurt), was lights out. He dropped 29 points on the reds and led Marquette to a 63-54 victory. Wilkinson, on the other hand, was never able to get going. He finished with just 2 points on 1-8 shooting, in 23 minutes. Along with the Holy Cross game, this resides at the top of my list of favorite Travis Diener games. It exemplified everything there was to love about the guy: coming up huge in the season's biggest game, leading his team, and playing through an injury. Diener's importance to Marquette was never more apparent than when he finally missed a game at Louisville in January of '05. Everyone remembers what happened that night, so I won't go into any more detail. The wounds are still not healed.
Unfortunately for Travis and Marquette, his senior year came to an abrupt end when finally suffered an injury that he couldn't play through. With the team on the NCAA Tournament bubble, leading the conference in scoring, 83 points shy of George Thompson's all-time scoring record, Diener suffered a broken left hand in practice. Without their point guard the Golden Eagles lost 3 of their last 4 games and slid out of the tournament picture. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Diener ended up earning his second straight All-CUSA first team selection along with an AP All-American honorable mention.
Diener's broken hand healed in time for him to work out for NBA teams in preparation for the 2005 draft. He was selected by the Orlando Magic with the 8th pick of the 2nd round (38th overall). After 2 years in Orlando, Diener became a free agent and signed with the Indiana Pacers. He finished this past season with the Portland Trailblazers, and is currently a free agent once again.
While his NBA career may be following the path of an ordinary, journeyman, career back-up point guard, his Marquette career was anything but ordinary. He was a vital cog on the best MU team of the past 25 years. He was one of the best college players in the country for 2 seasons. And he kept afloat some teams that, in retrospect, probably would have been downright bad without him. For these and all his other contributions to the Wisconsin sporting landscape, I nominate Travis Diener for the SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame.