On Tuesday, we were treated to a pair of pictures on Instagram that heralded the arrival of two of Marquette basketball's incoming freshmen class.
A warm welcome to both Sacar Anim and Haanif Cheatham. I'm slightly surprised that they're on campus, as summer school started last week, but hey, I'm not in charge of how these things work themselves out.
As you can see from the two pictures, Anim will wear number 2 in blue and gold starting in the fall, while Cheatham will don 24.
This is a bit of a problem.
You see, #24 was also worn by George "Brute Force" Thompson from 1966 through 1969. Thompson would end up setting Marquette's all time scoring record with 1,773 points, a total that would withstand 4 decades worth of players until Jerel McNeal surpassed it in 2009. To no one's surprise, Marquette retired Thompson's #24 to honor his stellar career. It says so right in the media guide on page 47: "Marquette has honored nine outstanding players by retiring their jersey numbers, the highest honor a player can receive from the university."
This isn't the first time that Marquette has deployed Thompson's number since it was retired. In 2006, Lazar Hayward made his debut in blue & gold wearing 24. That was quickly corrected when Thompson understandably voiced his objection, and from there on out, Hayward wore his eventually iconic #32. Head coach Tom Crean said at the time:
There is not a chance, that if I thought we were making a mistake, I would have allowed it. In retrospect, I wish I would have called George. I have told George that no one within the Marquette basketball program would ever try to disrespect him. I am sorry that it happened.
In my opinion, we do what UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Oklahoma State do. We do not take the number out of the equation but rather the jersey itself is what is retired.
I have to think that this is a conscious decision by the Marquette athletic department. Deputy Athletic Director Mike Broeker has been with MU since November of 2003, when he was hired as Assistant Athletic Director For Media Relations. It stands to reason that given his ascent within the department, Broeker is well aware of what happened regarding Thompson and Hayward.
And you know what? I'm fine with this, as long as everything was settled with George Thompson.
According to the NCAA rule book, there are only 36 numbers that can be worn by a men's college basketball player: 0-5, 10-15, 20-25, 30-35, 40-45, and 50-55. According to the same media guide that says the numbers are retired, Marquette has taken nine of those 36 numbers out of circulation: #3 (Dwyane Wade), #14 (Dean Meminger), #15 (Butch Lee), #20 (Maurice Lucas), #24, #31 (Bo Ellis and Doc Rivers), #43 (Earl Tatum), and #44 (Don Kojis). If you're counting, that's only eight, because Marquette also retired #11 in honor of the Apollo 11 crew. There's only 36 numbers available and Marquette has retired a full one-quarter of them.
I'm with Crean on this one. Hang banners to honor anyone who made an All-American first or second team, or win Big East Player of the Year like North Carolina does. Reserve retirement of the number for guys who win the Naismith Trophy or the Wooden Award, or one of the other national player of the year awards. According to the same media guide, that would cut Marquette's list of retired numbers down to just Butch Lee's #15. Ultimately, this would end up with Marquette recognizing the careers of more players, as Ed Mullen, Erwin Graf, Jim Chones, Bob Lackey, Lloyd Walton, Jerome Whitehead, Sam Worthen, Jim McIlvaine, Jerel McNeal, and Jae Crowder all elbow their way into a banner.
Paint Touches made some phone calls, and it appears that this was done with George Thompson's knowledge.
Clarification: Diener did reach out to Thompson about using No. 24. https://t.co/0n9HXndxLl— Paint Touches (@PaintTouches) May 28, 2015
What you don't see in the pictures above is the plaques in each player's locker bearing the name of every player to have worn their jersey in the past. If head coach Steve Wojciechowski is moving forward with releasing the retired numbers for use, but making sure that the current (and future) players know about this history associated with their numbers, then I'm still completely fine with this.