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Like Buzz, Blue wears emotions on his sleeve

As Buzz Williams and Marquette broke the huddle in the team’s locker room for the last time as a group, sophomore Vander Blue sat down in his locker and began to cry.

Blue kept his head in his hands for minutes before finally looking up, still his eyes still red and filled with tears.

Like he did a year ago, Blue explained that his emotions stemmed from knowing he would never play with seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder again.

“I think that’s what’s hurting me the most,” Blue said softly. “Knowing I won’t be able to play with them anymore, because they taught me a lot on and off the court.”

If it was indeed Johnson-Odom and Crowder who taught the sophomore this year, both deserve incredible amounts of credit.

A year ago, Blue walked onto the Marquette campus as a five-star, blue chip prospect. He admitted that he focused on other things than basketball and school, which hurt his on-court performance. And last October, Blue was ticketed for battery after an alleged fight outside a local bar. On top of everything, Blue struggled as a freshman to live up to lofty expectations set for him as Buzz Williams’ highest rated recruit.

But Williams stayed with his freshman through it all.

“He’s the absolute best,” Williams said after Marquette’s loss to Florida. “If he didn’t have such a good mom, I’d try to adopt him if it wasn’t against NCAA rules. He cares, and sometimes his body language, if you don’t know him, it comes across as he’s being a jerk. No, he’s not being a jerk. He’s about as good a kid as there is.”

Vander Blue has made major strides in his sophomore season. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

This year, Blue matured. The sophomore took on a leadership role, admitting the one area of his game that improved the most was his mind. Subsequently, his numbers across the board improved.

Blue showed great maturity when sophomore center Davante Gardner went down with a knee injury against Villanova on Jan. 28. Not only did Blue knock down all four of his free throws in the final minute to secure that win over the Wildcats, but he also averaged 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in the eight games Gardner missed.

Blue was one of three Big East players to average at least 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in conference play. Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson and Georgetown center Henry Sims were the other two.

His versatility allowed him to play as Marquette’s taller third guard/smaller third forward. His steal numbers were down from his freshman season, but there was no denying that Blue was arguably the Golden Eagles’ top perimeter defender in 2011. His combination of quickness, length and basketball intelligence gave him an advantage against his opponent most nights.

At times, Blue struggled to finish in transition, and often his quick feet move faster than he can make decisions, but that his energy level has remained constant and, as seen Thursday night, his dedication and commitment to Marquette and its seniors is as high as ever.

“He cares so much, and his heart is on his sleeve, and I coach that-a-way, too,” Williams said. “So we’re kindred spirits in a lot of ways.”

Blue shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc this year, and still needs a more consistent jump shot to be considered a threat from outside. But if he is true to his word about learning from Johnson-Odom and Crowder, Blue’s work ethic will carry him to the next level as an upperclassman at Marquette.

Blue’s emotion Thursday night was genuine, and his coach’s words were just as comforting as the bear hug he gave him at his locker.

“I’m not a Mormon so I can’t marry Rita,” Williams said, referencing Blue’s mother. “But I love Vander. I love him.”

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