Buzz Williams will send home one of his players next summer.
And he’ll do the same the summer after that, too.
These offseason suspensions may not only be the result of a punishment handed down to straighten out a player, but also acts as part of his philosophy to let his players understand the value of their scholarship and place in the program.
“When you are going through it obviously it’s tough,” Williams said. “But when you look back, their lives were changed because I said, ‘You’ve got to appreciate this. You’ve got to appreciate today. You’ve got to be accountable for today.’”
Williams’ latest suspension was Todd Mayo, who dealt with a bevy of personal struggles during his freshman season before being sent home this summer.
His suspension ended in late August, and during that time off said he learned that struggles would occur with any freshman in a new surrounding, and that he could have dealt with them different.
“I wish I would have known that it wasn’t always going to be good. I kind of knew it, but when it hit me it was hard to get over the hump,” Mayo said. “And sometimes you can’t get over the hump in a day. And you might not get over the hump in a week. It might take a month. I wish I had known that.”
But Mayo isn’t the first player who needed a boost through an offseason away from the team.
First it was Maurice Acker, who battled off-court issues much of his junior year and was sent home prior to his senior season in 2009. The 5-foot-8 point guard was not expected back in order to focus on academics, but that time away from the team served Acker well when he eventually returned in early September. He was vital in his final season at Marquette, finishing fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.1) and second in 3-point field goal percentage (49.5).
The following season Williams sent home Joe Fulce before his senior year. An injury-riddled season limited him to 8.8 minutes in 29 games, but his invaluable leadership and example helped Marquette to 22 wins and an eventual Sweet 16.
But perhaps the most visible change seen from Williams’ suspensions was one that most didn’t even know happened: Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.
In 2010, Crowder arrived late to Marquette. In fact, Crowder’s first day on campus was also his first day of classes. Per Williams’ self-imposed rules, Crowder did not receive practice gear because he had not completed individual workouts that summer.
An upset Crowder, then a junior, accepted the consequences, went out and averaged 11.8 points per game for a Marquette team that won 22 games and made a Sweet 16 appearance.
That attitude gave Crowder and fellow senior Johnson-Odom, who averaged 15.8 points per game, a sense of entitlement of sorts, prompting Williams to send both home the summer before their senior campaigns.
“You couldn’t tell those guys a lot of anything because they were thinking, ‘Hey man, this is nothing.’ No it is something. Carry your ass home,” Williams said.
Eight months after the suspension, Crowder had been named a second-team All-American and Johnson-Odom to the All-Big East First Team. The two combined to help Marquette to a 27-8 record, another Sweet 16 appearance and were drafted in June, all occurrences Williams said wouldn’t have happened had he not sent both home.
“(Jae’s) hugging me and sobbing after I tell him that he’s gonna win Big East Player of the Year, before we go to the press conference. And I tell him, ‘I’m really happy for you. I’m really proud of you. Do you know where you were 19 months ago?’ He was like, ‘Man I was leaving. (Expletive) you.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, and I felt the same about you,’” Williams said. “But that’s just part of growth, that’s just part of maturity.”
Mayo was Williams’ latest maturation project, and early returns show the sophomore guard is a different person. Teammates Vander Blue and Chris Otule agree. Based on that, as well as his past success stories with his suspensions, it won’t be the last time someone goes home for the summer.
“I think any time in our world, whatever that world is, that we can skew our lens a little bit it makes us more humble, it makes us more grateful,” Williams said.
“And that’s why we’ll do it again next season.”