To the new freshmen of the Marquette University Class of 2015, I say welcome. You have joined a proud heritage and tradition, and perhaps you don't even realize it yet. Don't worry, that's what Anonymous Eagle is here for. We understand that many of you haven't gotten a chance to bring yourself up to speed with the past, present and future of Marquette Basketball. Join us now, as we get you ready for what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting seasons in Marquette Basketball history. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get you started today with what you need to know to jump right in to this year's team. Join us the rest of the week for more important Marquette Basketball knowledge!
This is your head coach, Brent "Buzz" Williams. The nickname refers to his dedication to work and improvement and not his haircut. The first thing you need to understand about Buzz is the story about how he got his first job out of college. He's prone to positive emotional outbursts on the sideline. He has a few catchphrases, and I don't mean that in a condescending way. This will be his 4th season at Marquette, and his 5th season as a head coach overall. Rubie Q and I will spend the season disagreeing over how much influence coaching has on the outcome of a game, with me supporting Buzz and Rubie finding every possible flaw. It's a living.
Moving on to players, the logical place to start is #1 on your scorecard, Darius Johnson-Odom (6'2", 215 lbs., Raleigh, NC). He's coming off a 2010-11 campaign that landed him on the All Big East Second Team. If you watched the video I linked to in the paragraph about Buzz, he's the guy throwing down the RIDICULOUS putback dunk that causes Buzz's outburst. DJO's the resident sharpshooter on the team, burying 3s at a 41.3% clip since joining the Golden Eagles in 2009. If his performance at the North Carolina Pro-Am this summer is any indicator (examples here, here, here and here), we're in for a big season from the left handed senior.
Speaking of seniors on the team, the only other one is The Absolut Weapon, #32, Jae Crowder (6'6", 235 lbs., Villa Rica, GA). After winning the National Junior College Player of the Year award while leading Howard College to an NJCAA title in 2009-10, he stepped right in at MU and started contributing immediately. Jae's contributions might actually have been slightly underestimated. The boys over at Cracked Sidewalks (add your bookmark now) crunched some numbers and found that Crowder was the ONLY Power 6 conference (Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 10, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference) player who finished in the 80th percentile or better in at least 6 of the 8 KenPom.com (bookmark now) key player stats for the 2010-11 season. Things are looking up for the man with the Predator-style dreadlocks.
Coming up after the jump: We go around the AE roundtable to talk about the remaining returning players, as well as talk a bit about this year's newcomers and who Buzz has lined up to join the Golden Eagles next fall as well.
We'll start the trip through the other returning Golden Eagles with Soft Pretzel With Cheese on the man in the middle, starting center Chris Otule (6'11", 265 lbs., Richmond, TX). 2 quick notes on #42: 1 - It's pronounced oh-TOO-lay, and 2 - No apostrophes. Please.
Recruiting quality big men has been a challenge recently for Marquette coaches, so expectations were high when Otule stepped foot on campus as a freshman. Foot injuries derailed his freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year as a redshirt sophomore, Otule showed flashes of the player we hoped he could be, averaging 5.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and collecting 55 blocks, tying Amal McCaskill for the 9th most blocks in a season by a MU player, and the most blocks by any MU player since Faisal Abraham's 84 in 1996-97.
The biggest surprise of the season came during a game versus Vanderbilt when ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried revealed that Otule only has one eye, which up to that point was not publicly known. Assuming Otule is able to stay healthy and out of foul trouble, he should provide the legitimate low post scoring, rebounding, and shot altering threat Marquette has been looking for since Robert Jackson during the 2003 Final Four run.
Backing up Otule is #54, Davante Gardner (6'8", 290 lbs., Suffolk, VA). I remember when I saw Davante play for the first time at last year's Milwaukee Pro-Am. I wasn't particularly impressed with him, but 1) he was the least regarded recruit last year and 2) the free running style of the Pro-Am doesn't lend itself to showcase the skills of a guy of Ox's size. Then came November 12, 2010. Marquette's home opener against Prairie View A&M. On the way to a 97-58 win, Gardner made all 7 of his shots (some of them in a near circus-style manner near the rim) and all 3 free throws for 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in just 13 minutes. Needless to say, my jaw was on the floor. The only thing stopping Gardner's near freakish touch with the ball around the rim from playing more than the 9 minutes he averaged a game last year was his adjustment to playing the kind of defense that Buzz needs from any player on the court. At this year's Pro-Am, the man of many nicknames looks trimmer and more confident in his skills and talents. If his defensive intensity and ability have been improved in the same manner, look for big things from Big Smoove.
Junior returns for his third season as a Golden Eagle, but, in fairness, he really only has about one-and-a-quarter seasons under his belt: JC was seemingly lost for the year as a freshman back in '09 when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in an offseason running drill, but he worked his li'l Canadian ass off and ended up returning to the floor in February. Junior was woefully out of shape and unprepared for the rigors of Big East basketball, though, so he saw minimal time and barely got his feet wet in the spring of 2010.
Last year, he was expected to man the point from the first day of practice, but that didn't exactly work out, either: Coach Buzz felt more comfortable with senior Dwight Buycks at the helm, and so JC's minutes were lower than expected ... until HE GROWNS UP AND HE GROWNS UP AND HE GROWNS UP in a big way in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments: for all intents and purposes, Junior got Marquette into the Dance with his marvelous performance against West Virginia in the BET, notching 15 points, including 13 in the 2nd half, and five assists in 26 huge minutes, and he scored 9 points, dished out three assists, and hit two critical free throws in the win over 'Cuse that sent MU to the Sweet Sixteen. Buoyed by the strong finish, the point guard job -- once again -- seems to be Junior's to lose heading into the new campaign.
Will the real Vander Blue please stand up? During the summer before his freshman season at MU, Vander suited up for the USA Basketball Men's Under 18 National Team, where he averaged a respectable 7.2 points and 1.8 steals per game, capping off the tournament with 13 points in the gold medal win over Brazil. In non-conference play in 2010-'11, Vander got off to a solid start by averaging nearly 10 points per game. Then Big East play started and Blue's shot disappeared, as did his minutes and his confidence. (In conference play, his FG% dropped to a chilly 28% and his minutes plummeted to 15.3 per game.) He looked lost in the last three months of the season, which makes him one of many unknowns heading into the season. Can he live up to the expectations of a Top 100 recruit? If you follow him on Twitter, he'll let you know when he's "watching House Party eating some pizza." Fascinating. Also, a word to the wise: don't call him Vander Orange.
The most important thing that you can know about Jamail Jones is that no one really knows much about Jamail Jones. He was a highly touted recruit from Montverde Academy in Florida, making the all-tournament team at the 2010 ESPN/RISE National High School Invitational, partly because of dunks that put him on SportsCenter's Top 10 on consecutive days. But for whatever reason, Jamail was never able to crack the regular rotation for the Golden Eagles last year. He got the standard freshmen minutes in the non-conference portion of the schedule - mainly garbage time, in blowouts. But he saw the floor in just 10 of the season's final 25 games, and only logged more than 5 minutes once - and that came in Marquette's 25 point loss to Louisville in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. From what we did see of him, there wasn't a lot that could be discerned.
I fully expect to see Jamail's role expand this season as the opportunity will be there for him. With Jimmy Butler's departure, there are plenty of minutes to be had on the wing. I suggest you pay close attention to #22. He could very well be the player that takes his game to the next level this season and emerges as a major contributor for your Marquette Golden Eagles.
We have 4 new Golden Eagles this year, although only 3 of them join the class of 2015. Juan Anderson (#10, 6'6", 210 lb., Castro Valley, CA), Derrick Wilson (#33, 6', 215 lb., Anchorage, AK), and Todd Mayo (#4, 6'3", 190 lb., Huntington, WV) are the three freshmen joining the team. Beginning his eligibility with Marquette after transferring from Oregon and sitting out for the 2010-11 year is Jamil Wilson. Wilson (#0, 6,7", 220 lb., Racine, WI) started 14 of the 26 games he appeared in for Oregon before head coach Ernie Kent was fired, leading to his interest in returning to his home state.
Coach Buzz already has players committed to play for the Golden Eagles next year. Jake Thomas is a walk-on who is transferring in from North Dakota. Thomas is already enrolled at Marquette and will practice with the team this year, but since he had a scholarship from North Dakota, he's required to sit the 2011-12 season out. Joining Thomas are two players coming from high school and one coming from junior college. T.J. Taylor (6'4", 220 lb., Dennison, TX) will be arriving from Paris (TX) Junior College with 3 years of eligibility. You can read more about him here. Jamal Ferguson (6'4", 180 lbs., Norfolk, VA) was the first player to commit to the class of 2016, and he was recently joined by Steve Taylor (6'7", 175 lbs., Chicago, IL), no relation to TJ. The NCAA limits men's basketball to 13 scholarships, so that leaves one open spot to fill at some point this year.
That'll wrap up our discussion of players currently committed to Marquette Basketball. Tomorrow we'll discuss the storied history of our program, and we'll wrap up the Primer on Friday with our discussion of how to be the best MU fan you can be!