As I watched Vander Blue hit shot after shot, in a phenomenal performance against Pitt last Saturday, a thought occurred to me: There are Marquette fans out there that still have a problem with this kid. Naturally, the follow up thought was: How is that even possible?
As I watch Vander play this year I see a kid that is putting all the pieces together and taking his game to another level. I even went so far as to drop a "MAN'S GAME" on him this weekend. And if you're familiar with the show here, you know that's not something we throw around loosely. I see a kid that is having the game "slow down" for him (as coaches say). The ability has always been there. We've seen it in flashes through his first two years. It was not an accident that he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. He was not invited to play on the U18 National Team for his charm and good looks. This season we're not just getting it in flashes; we're getting it game in and game out. Plays that, two years ago may have resulted in a frustrating turnover, are now resulting in points for Vander or one of his teammates.
Watching Vander this year, I see a player that is beginning to look more and more like a pro. He obviously worked his ass off this year to improve his outside shooting. He's improved his 3-point percentage to a serviceable 30%. But it's not the 3-point shooting that's been the greatest improvement. It's his mid-range/pull-up game that is jumping off the page for me. Check the tape from the Pitt game, DePaul game, even the Louisville game. Tell me that that shots he's hitting coming off of curls and pulling up on drives don't look like the stuff you see from the gentlemen in the association. And with defenders forced to respect this improved jump-shooting, it has made Vander's drive game even more effective. He has always had the amazing body control and creative shot making ability of a pro, but it's a lot more difficult to utilize these talents when the defense know it's your weapon. This year it's a different story.
I see all this happening and I am elated. It's awesome to see a talented kid making tremendous strides, and emerging as a star for our program. Yet, I know there are still people out there that have an issue. Some people have pointed to Van's recent "No one believed in me, or this team, and now we're proving them wrong" mantra, as some sort of evidence that he's a trash-talker (or something). I don't get that at all. You know who else has used other people's disrespect (real or perceived) as motivation... EVERY ATHLETE EVER!!! Every player and team uses the disrespect angle. And it should surprise no one that Blue would hear the rumblings of those who "don't believe." Remember, the chatter of Badger message board knuckleheads was part of his decision to de-commit from UW and be a Golden Eagle. If he feels like he's got something to prove, and that motivates him to take his game and his team to new heights, I'm completely cool with it.
To be sure, the Vander haters are a dying breed. But they're not extinct. They know who they are. And if they'd like, they can feel free to step up and say their piece. Just don't expect me to agree.