Vander Blue won’t admit it.
He’ll tell you everything you want to hear, that Saturday night’s 60-50 victory over Wisconsin was just another tally in the win column. That it was one Marquette needed to avoid falling to 5-3 early in the season. He’ll say that playing against the hometown school, the same school he de-committed from three years ago, was no different from any other game, and that the whole team wanted the win just as bad as he did.
But anyone who witnessed Blue’s performance and the passion he showed after each of his seven made baskets and Marquette runs knows this one was special for the Madison native.
The story of Blue’s well-documented recruitment – one that saw him commit to Wisconsin as a high school sophomore, de-commit as a junior and commit to in-state rival Marquette five months later – has made him the story line every time the two schools meet up the first week of December.
But for the first time in three seasons, Blue is performing like the player he knew Wisconsin was losing and Marquette was receiving when he and his mother, Rita, called Buzz Williams to make his decision in 2009.
“I think as Vander’s life has matured, his game has matured,” Buzz Williams said. “And I think that happens with a lot of guys. But I think where Vander is in his development, No. 1 he knows who he is, and No. 2 he’s accepted who he is. Sometimes that’s hard for any of us to do in our profession because we want to be more, we want to be better.
“And that’s OK, but how you work to be more and how you work to be better within the confines of what you can do great now is important. And I think because he’s matured so much as a human, he’s able to understand that better as a player.”
Blue’s maturation process has taken time, but he has finally arrived.
He was issued a ticket for battery — which was later reduced to a fine for disorderly conduct — and was cited for being in a nightclub underage as a sophomore and was subsequently suspended for the first half of last year’s West Virginia contest. But Blue has put his past behind him and his future on hold, and Saturday night’s performance was the last hump he needed to get over to finish his transformation.
“Ever since I got here, [Buzz] has always told me if you’re not doing right off the court it won’t transfer on the court,” Blue said. “And I realized that, and I want to make sure every single day I look at it one day at a time, don’t get too far ahead and don’t worry about things that are over with. And he’s always taught me that, and helped me just knowing I have to get through today.
“And since he’s installed that in my head that’s really helped me, knowing I have to grow up. I have to be a leader. We don’t have Darius or Jae anymore, so it’s pretty much on me here, and now we have players like Jamal and Steve looking at me for answers, so there’s no time for me to be immature in any way.”
Blue is Marquette’s go-to guy. Think about that. As a freshman he was prematurely labeled a bust by many, and last year his rounded game was nullified by those same critics who needed to see a jump shot to believe in the former five-star recruit.
The jumper is there. His defense is as good as ever. He’s embracing the leadership role Marquette desperately needed after its two pillars departed for the NBA. And if there was any doubt as to whether or not Blue’s mental strength was ready for the bright lights, his 17-point performance against the toughest opponent he’ll individually face all year all but washed them away.
“I was making sure that I got in the right spot,” Blue said. “[Buzz] kept running plays for me and I just made sure I was doing what I had to do to score or set somebody else up to score.
“I didn’t want to come out and be over-excited and hurt our team. I just wanted to make sure I took real good shots, the shots I take every day. My teammates were finding me, shots were going in early in the first half and I was doing whatever it took to win.”
Williams is running plays for Blue, another testament to how far he’s come. But even the plays Williams doesn’t run for Marquette’s leading scorer are falling, specifically the buzzer-beating 3-pointer he hit early in the first half.
“We practice late-clock situations every single day. The first one I hit late in the shot clock, I recognized the clock and I knew I had rebounders if I missed,” Blue said.
“I had confidence in my shot, and luckily it went down.”
But in reality, there’s no longer luck in any of Blue’s performances. He’s made a commitment to himself and is following through with it. And after Saturday’s performance, there aren’t any surprises either.
Even if he won’t always admit it.