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It’s Time For Marquette Men’s Basketball To Start Retiring Numbers Again

The NCAA made one tiny rule change, and now the Golden Eagles don’t need to worry about running out of numbers in the future.

Syndication: Milwaukee Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On Thursday, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel officially approved and announced several rule changes that will go into effect for the 2023-24 Division 1 men’s college basketball season. There’s a lot of them — 12 in total, in fact — including a tweak to the block/charge rule — that are perhaps interesting to discuss and poke at and pick apart. Go read the press release for all of that if you’re interested.

However, there is one rule change that is of particular interest for Marquette fans, and I quote: Players will be allowed to wear numbers 0-99.

Now, I don’t mean that this is of interest because there’s someone on the current roster that’s obviously begging to wear #67 or whatever. This is of interest to Marquette fans because the Golden Eagles have eight numbers that were retired and out of use as of last season under the old “only digits 0-5 can be used” rules.

  • #3 — Dwyane Wade
  • #14 — Dean Meminger
  • #15 — Butch Lee
  • #20 — Maurice Lucas
  • #24 — George Thompson
  • #31 — Bo Ellis & Doc Rivers
  • #43 — Earl Tatum
  • #44 — Don Kojis

Those eight couldn’t be worn last year, leaving Marquette with just 28 possible numbers to use once Tyler Kolek was allowed to wear #11. That one was retired after Apollo 11 successfully landed and returned from the moon, and Kolek’s Big East Player of the Year campaign in 2022-23 was the first time it had been worn since. 28 numbers, 13 scholarship players, leaving just 15 unused numbers, and walk-ons need to occupy some of those 15 as well. At some point, if Marquette kept retiring more numbers and taking them out of service, new players joining the team were going to start being able to pick from just three or four possible available digits, and that’s no fun.

But now, the NCAA is allowing anything from 0 through 99 to be worn. Retiring numbers doesn’t limit the active roster any more. There’s dozens of possible numbers to wear, although this means that Marquette does lose two more numbers. #77 was ceremonially retired in 1997 for Al McGuire, but now it’s officially retired. #38 was retired after the end of the career of athletic trainer Robert Weingart, so that’s off the board, too, I presume.

However, there are 22 All-Americans in Marquette’s history that have not been honored with a jersey retirement. I’m not saying that all of them should necessarily be retired. God bless Ray Morstadt and Ed Mullen, who both earned AA honors in 1935 from two different outlets making them the first ever MU players to do that, but I don’t know if we need to shut down #26 and #25 respectively for them at this point.

In between Morstadt and Mullen and today though, there are a couple of names that we need to talk about as immediate candidates to see their numbers to up into the Fiserv Forum rafters. There’s one big one that stands above all the rest, so let’s address that first.

Jim Chones — #22

As a sophomore in 1971 — remember, freshmen couldn’t play at all back then — Chones posted 17.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game as Marquette went 28-1 and only suffered that loss by one point to Ohio State in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. The team spent the entire year in the top 10 of the AP poll and was only outside the top five in the final two rankings of the season, and that was #7 both times. The next year, Chones was averaging 20.6 points and 11.9 rebounds per game as MU ran up a record of 20-0 and were ranked #2 in the country — as they had been for 11 straight weeks — before head coach Al McGuire encouraged his star player to sign a million dollar contract with the New Jersey Nets of the ABA.

I’ll say it a different way: Marquette was 48-1 with Jim Chones in the lineup, including an undefeated record in the regular season, and always ranked in the top 10 in the country. He missed the final eight games of his junior season, including the NCAA tournament, and was still a First Team All-American according to the AP, the UPI, and Converse Yearbook. He is still #4 all time in career scoring average at 19.0 points per game, trailing only Markus Howard, George Thompson, and Dwyane Wade, which means that Chones was #2 all time behind only Thompson when he left Marquette.

Either we retire Jim Chones’ #22 and we do it first so we can still bring in the 73 year old Racine native for his well deserved standing ovation, or we retire no one else’s number ever again.

Other candidates!

The Player of the Year Category

Jim McIlvaine — #34

Jae Crowder — #32

Markus Howard — #0

Since joining a conference, Marquette has had five men win a Player of the Year trophy in their league at the time. One of them — Dwyane Wade — already has his jersey retired. One of them — Tyler Kolek — is still on the active roster. That gives us the other three: Jim McIlvaine, the Great Midwest Conference POY in 1994, Jae Crowder, the Big East POY in 2012, and Markus Howard, the Big East POY in 2019.

There’s an argument for retiring all three numbers by that alone right there. McIlvaine was an AP Honorable Mention All American in 1994, and is still #31 all time in scoring and #17 in rebounds in addition to holding what may be an untouchable career record of 399 blocked shots. Howard is Marquette’s all-time leading scorer and is the only player to record more than 2,000 career points. Howard is the only player in program history to be considered a consensus All-American twice, earning Second Team status the year he won POY and First Team status as a senior.

Crowder presents an interesting puzzle to unravel relative to answering the question of whether or not his number should be retired. He finished his career with over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds, and he did it in just two seasons. If he had played for a third year with the Golden Eagles and merely added the average of his two seasons to his totals, Crowder would currently be #15 all time in scoring and #6 all time in rebounding. He was a AP Second Team All American as a senior, too. But the fact of the matter is he was only at Marquette for two years because of his time in junior college, not because he was a shooting star of a player that left early for a pro career. How do you measure that when he has two year numbers that are better than almost anyone in program history?

The Three Amigos Category

Dominic James — #1

Jerel McNeal — #22

Wesley Matthews — #23

We have to address the trio of guys who began starring for Marquette at the same time all in one grouping. There is very much an intertwined relationship with all three of them in terms of impact on Marquette hoops, as they were freshmen in the year that MU joined the Big East, and all three of them were a major part of the reason why MU immediately became a notable factor in the conference.

It gets to be a very awkward conversation pretty quickly, as we have to say that Matthews doesn’t have the accolades to have his jersey in the rafters. Yes, he’s #10 all-time in scoring right now. Yes, he’s had the best pro career of the trio. He also was never an All-American and only earned all-Big East honors once, a Second Team berth as a senior.

We have to raise questions about James as well, as he earned Honorable Mention All American honors just once, as a sophomore. He was Big East Rookie of the Year in 2006, and was all-Big East in each of his first three years... but not as a senior, although perhaps his late season injury is part of the problem there.

McNeal is truly the only one of the three that clearly deserves enshrinement by way of a retired jersey number. He was all-Big East in all four seasons, capping his career with a First Team in 2009 to go with an AP Second Team All-American honor. McNeal broke Michael Wilson’s career steals record and then also broke George Thompson’s career scoring record. Yes, McNeal took four seasons to break the record Thompson set in three due to the freshman eligibility rule.... but also no one else broke Thompson’s record between 1969 and 2009.

The Untouchable Record Category

Tony Miller — #10

956 career assists in four seasons. No one else in program history has more than the 632 that Dominic James recorded. Travis Diener is the only other player to clear 600 assists. Is that record on its own worth given Tony Miller a banner in Fiserv Forum?

To put what Miller did in context of what we’ve seen recently: Tyler Kolek was named Big East Player of the Year this past season, partially because of his ability to set teammates up for buckets. He fell four assists short of the 274 that Miller recorded for the program’s single season record..... and Miller did that in just 33 games, three fewer than Kolek. More context: If Kolek repeats that 270 assists season in 2023-24, his third year at Marquette, he will have 728 assists, more than anyone else but still 228 assists short of Miller.

Here’s the rub on that one: Kolek could still come back for a fourth season at Marquette after transferring from George Mason because of the COVID relief/bonus season that the NCAA granted everyone. It’s actually possible for Tyler Kolek to break Miller’s career assists record.... as long as he records two more seasons with more assists than anyone else in program history other than Miller. Is the record actually unbreakable then, and therefore do we have to say “yeah, but maybe not.” After all, Miller was never an All-American and he never earned First Team all-conference honors during his tenure at Marquette when the program was a part of the Great Midwest Conference.

The “Look At His Pro Career!” Category

Jimmy Butler — #33

Here’s a weird thing I didn’t expect to think about in April of 2011: Jimmy Butler has a legitimate case for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s a six time All-Star and has been all-NBA at the end of the regular season five times. He’s been the best player on a team that reached the NBA Finals two different times, both after the age of 30. Basketball Reference has him #46 all time in Player Efficiency Rating, #80 in total Win Shares, and #23 in Win Shares per 48 minutes, and their Hall of Fame Probability algorithm gives him a 73% chance of getting into the HoF.

Is that good enough to raise a jersey for a guy who was Honorable Mention all-Big East twice in his three year Marquette career and sits at #32 all time in scoring and #29 in rebounding in program history? Does the fact that what Jimmy Butler is doing in the NBA blows away all possible likely scenarios when he left Marquette give him a reason to have his jersey retired forever? Or do we have to say “look, he had a good college career, turning into an NBA legend doesn’t retroactively add accolades to his time in Milwaukee” and say no to a retirement?

Am I missing someone? Is there a Marquette player that has not had their jersey retired that you particularly think deserves it? Or should Marquette perhaps still start tilting towards honoring jerseys with some sort of simple banner in the rafters and reserve retirement for truly special players, perhaps even leaning towards un-retiring several of the numbers that have been hung up already?

Sound off in the comments, because I know y’all have opinions on the topic.