On Wednesday night, following Marquette’s convincing victory over Georgetown, the FS1 studio hosts tossed it to color commentator Donny Marshall, who was live with Markus Howard on the Al McGuire Court at Fiserv Forum for a post-game interview.
Instinctively, I found myself turning up the volume on my television. Post-game interviews in sports are notoriously boring and filled with clichés. But even as an extremely cynical sports fan, I wanted to hear from Howard, fresh off his stellar 30-point, 7-assist, 5-rebound performance, although the stats weren’t why I stayed tuned in. I legitimately CARED about what the superstar, now in between his penultimate and final Marquette home games, had to say.
I attended Marquette University from 2011 through 2015, in the heart of the Buzz Williams era, when the ethos of Marquette basketball revolved around the gritty identity of the roster top-to-bottom. Buzz didn’t recruit a lot of high-profile talent, so the teams that ignited my passion for this university’s basketball team were defined by the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
And sure, my first memory of Marquette basketball involves Jae Crowder, who would go onto win Big East Player of the Year that season, jumping on the scorer’s table and nearly KOing the laptop I was using to perform my athletics department intern duties on that evening. Nevertheless, transcendent star power, and generated so earnestly at that, didn’t define what I came to know as Marquette basketball.
That’s what has made watching Markus Howard for nearly four full seasons now so special, and why I don’t feel quite emotionally prepared to consider Marquette basketball without #0 from Chandler, Arizona.
Choosing to go to Marquette from a college prep school in the Pacific Northwest as I did, you ran the risk of the average person having no idea what you were talking about when they asked you where you were going to college. The easy remedy for that was to tell them, in the midst of the Miami Heat les era in the NBA, that “Dwyane Wade went there.”
However, I don’t authentically identify with that era of Marquette basketball. When Wade and Diener made the Final Four in 2003, I was 10 years old. When Tom Crean bolted for Indiana, I was just starting high school. People on Marquette Twitter can tell me about The Three Amigos or even the teams led by Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler, but the fact is, I became a Marquette basketball fan in 2011 when I set foot on campus for the first time, and a few months later, looked up at the hulking Crowder as he flexed to the crowd during Marquette Madness.
But as I write this more than eight years and nearly nine full seasons after that moment, I’ve come to realize that Markus Howard defines what Marquette basketball means to me. I am, as all of us in the Marquette community are, truly blessed to have watched him at the Bradley Center, Fiserv Forum, and in my case this year, mostly from the comfort of my couch in Seattle.
Markus represents what it means to be a Marquette basketball player, a Marquette student, and just an all-around quality human in the world today in exemplary fashion.
As a player, he’s overcome his lack of physical stature with a relentless work ethic, and he’s grown in tangible ways on the court each year. He’s evolved from a pure shooting freshman into a multi-faceted scoring behemoth and added muscle to his frame to improve as a defender and an absorber of contact.
Speaking of contact, he’s overcome loads of on-court adversity related to injuries sustained from the rigors of playing in the physical Big East Conference, selflessly sacrificing his body in the pursuit of victory on multiple occasions. He’s also remained Marquette’s committed leader and weathered constant criticism of his perceived (misguided, if you watch him interact with teammates) selfishness that has flared since the Hauser brothers left the program.
And through it all, he’s continually been an incredible steward for the university off the court, whether through community service or student-athlete and religious leadership. He represents the perfect marriage of an on-court supernova and off-court role model. Marquette will not have a better ambassador for what it stands for as a university for a long, long time.
This season, Markus is leading the nation in scoring, and has become an offensive human highlight reel capable of making some truly bonkers stuff look totally routine. As I’ve broken out of the Marquette bubble and returned to a land of Zags Zags and Huskies, it’s been gratifying for me to have Markus to share with fans of a team that loses two to three games each season or regularly lands five-star, one-and-done talent.
Markus stands for more than uncanny basketball ability, though. After Marquette lost a third consecutive game at Providence last weekend, Markus assured the media that the team would keep fighting and keep playing for each other in the face of fan anxiety over another late-season collapse.
And sure, the Georgetown team Markus and Marquette (his name even sounds like the school!) stomped Wednesday night was severely undermanned. Still, Markus, who has taken so much heat for, again, misguided perceived selfishness in the last year, went out and set his career-high in assists. When Jayce Johnson made a big play in the second half, Markus ran over to him and punched him in the chest with pride about a half dozen times. When he checked out of the game at one point, he went down the bench and dapped up every last member of the team.
He’s become a true leader in his final season, one that exemplifies everything you could ask for in both a basketball player and a fellow Marquette soon-to-be alumnus. It’s why I decided I had to return to Milwaukee in the bitter cold of late February this weekend, not just to watch Howard battle his greatest foil, the swaggering Myles Powell, but to pay tribute to the finest example of the best of what Marquette can be I’ve ever witnessed.
At the end of the FS1 interview Wednesday, Markus thanked the “beautiful” fans for their support, and I turned to my roommate and cracked wise, saying “Thank you, Markus. You’re beautiful too.” It was a joke intended for a brief laugh, the kind you tell when the adrenaline of watching your favorite basketball team blow out a team you decidedly do not like is just wearing off, but there was undeniable truth in it too.
Watching Markus Howard play basketball for four years has been a beautiful experience, and watching him do it in the jersey of my alma mater has filled me with pride at every turn. I’m not ready for it to be over (and thank goodness there are more games past Saturday’s Senior Day), but even when it is, I know I’m never going to forget what it was like watching him. He’ll be the kind of player and person I talk about with my kids or, if God forbid I’m still on Marquette Twitter in 10 years, with people who, like me with Dwyane Wade, know the name Markus Howard but don’t understand how truly beautiful his game was.
This has been something I’ve wanted to write for many months now, and now that it’s out of my brain and onto the computer before me, there’s only one way I can think to end it:
Thank you, Markus Howard, for everything. You are the best of us.