Today’s Marquette Tribune featured an editorial asking new Vice President and Director of Athletics Larry Williams to be active in changing the Marquette athletics’ culture. The editorial believed “the best place to start would be with our most prominent athletics programs: men and women’s basketball.”
You can read the editorial here, which discusses the preferential treatment and celebrity status the men’s team has on campus and how the team is isolated from the rest of campus. The editorial also discusses how the sense of entitlement basketball players has could lead to problems down the line, going so far as to link the Xavier-Cincinnati on-court brawl to something that could happen at Marquette should this trend continue.
But what the editorial did not mention is possibly the most important part of the equation when discussing a topic such as this: the Marquette men’s basketball has earned, not been given, every perk that comes their way.
Buzz Williams has become known for recruiting players with stories similar to his. While part of the reason Williams has been active recruiting junior college players is to balance his roster, a larger part of that equation is because Williams wants players who have had to work to get where they are.
“I like guys that have had to ride in 15-passenger vans,” Williams said at last year’s NCAA Tournament. “I like guys that when they order, they just use a number. ‘I’d like No. 2, the combo meal.’ I think recruiting, as things have evolved, tends to spoil kids. And within the culture that I coach in on a daily basis, spoiled kids really struggle with dealing with me.”
Jimmy Butler, Joe Fulce, Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder were all junior college players, riding in 15-passenger vans, ordering combo meals, looking for a break and, most importantly, working their tails off to earn a Division I scholarship.
Williams saw something in each of those players and rewarded their hard work with that scholarship.
After Monday’s win over Louisville, Williams shared a story of how he recruited sophomore Davante Gardner.
“I knew that it would be an adjustment for him to learn to work the way that we demand you work,” Williams said. “And so I was really critical of him in front of his parents, in front of his coach. ‘Mean’ would be the nicest thing you could say about how I recruited him because I wanted to see how he would respond.”
Williams isn’t looking for flashy one-and-done athletes who think they are bigger than the program. He simply won’t recruit that way because that’s not the kind of person he is. He wants players who understand the value of hard work and are willing to put in the time to become players that reflect how he runs his program.
So while Williams looks for hard-working athletes in the recruiting process, the real work begins once the players arrive on campus.
There is a consensus in the program that Boot Camp, the 10-day grueling workout leading up to the beginning of the season, is the most strenuous stretch of run the players have ever gone through in their lives. The timed wind sprints measure physical strength but Williams says that, more importantly, mental strength is just as important.
Again, Williams wants mentally tough athletes who are willing to work for what they get. Only when each player has finished Boot Camp do they receive their practice gear. Just like everything else, they don’t GET their practice gear. They EARN it.
On the academic side, the players deal with completing schoolwork while taking constant trips to the East to compete in games. But that’s not to say they aren’t working just as hard as other students on campus.
Freshman Todd Mayo took an official visit to Marquette last year and, among the highlights of his trip, the one thing that stood out to him was that following the Golden Eagles’ win over Providence one Sunday afternoon, the team was back in the Al McGuire Center that night for study hall.
“I liked how Marquette put school first,” Mayo said.
Each player has a weekly schedule put together every Sunday night that details when the player has class, individual workouts, team practice and study hall. They even get a nutritional schedule that tells them what to eat and when to eat. So while they are off in their secluded dining area, there’s a rhyme and reason to what they’re doing.
While doing an interview, Marquette Associate Sports Director Scott Kuykendall passed Vander Blue and reminded him he had a meeting with the coaching staff that afternoon.
“Yeah, at 3:42,” Blue said.
These schedules are, literally, by the minute.
To say that the Marquette basketball team works harder than anyone on campus would be an insult to the daily strain they go through to keep Marquette as one of the top basketball programs in the country.
And what’s it all for?
The Marquette men’s basketball team earned more than $5.5 million during the 2009-2010 season, which was the 16th highest for college basketball programs and 56th highest for all Division I programs, football included.
These numbers help pay for all other Division I sports at Marquette and, in a number that can’t be calculated, have helped put Marquette on the national scene through nationally televised games, consistent NCAA Tournament appearances and sponsorship through the Jordan brand, something only three other schools in the country have (North Carolina, Georgetown, California).
If you think that Marquette basketball players are treated like celebrities on campus, it’s because they are.
They have not been given anything.
Rather, they have earned every perk that comes with being a Division I student athlete. If that is apartment housing, so be it. If they get to eat meals alone, if they get to study in their own area of the Al McGuire Center, if they receive more pairs of basketball shoes than they know what to do with, so be it.
“They’re just kids,” assistant coach Brad Autry said in an interview last November. “They just happen to be really good at basketball.”