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The adjective I use to describe Marquette

Buzz Williams' team has bought into what he's selling. (USA Today)

Buzz Williams’ team has bought into what he’s selling. (USA Today)

When you’ve covered Marquette for as long as I have–the last four seasons, to be exact–it becomes difficult to find different ways to describe the team. Since Midnight Madness on Oct. 12 this publication has written 243 stories, analyses, columns and features (this being the 244th), so I consider myself well-versed in the use of a thesaurus in an attempt to switch it up from time-to-time.

This year alone I’ve used the adjectives tough, mature, flustered, confused, lackluster, contending, impressive, athletic and magnificent to describe the Golden Eagles and their play.

National pundits can’t get enough of the “junkyard dog” angle, while coach Buzz Williams is quick to point out just how athletic and skilled his team really is. It’s a back-and-forth struggle, and both sides have legitimate arguments and both, at times, are accurate.

But after taking the time to think about it, mere hours before they take the court against Syracuse with a chance to earn a Final Four berth, it struck me that there’s really only one word to describe this Golden Eagles team: disciplined.

Often times in basketball the word “disciplined” is used to describe a smart team that rarely commits turnovers or silly fouls or takes out of control, low percentage shots. To some degree, Marquette cannot be categorized by any of those descriptors: the Golden Eagles commit 13.4 turnovers per game, average a pedestrian 16.9 fouls per game and, earlier in the season, had a serious issue finding any offensive identity. It got ugly.

So while Marquette and its players may not be the definition of “disciplined” in the true basketball sense–not that they could be considered undisciplined–the way each player bought into Williams’ unique philosophies, the way each player adapted to a brand-new coaching staff and the way each player took what Williams gave him and translated it onto the court is the reason they sit just 40 more minutes of solid basketball away from Atlanta and the Final Four.

The examples are everywhere. From Trent Lockett exclaiming through tears on Senior Day that Williams was the reason he came to Marquette, to Chris Otule still choosing Marquette five years ago even though Williams told him he “sucked” the first time he saw him play.

From Williams telling senior point guard Junior Cadougan in December that sophomore Derrick Wilson deserved to start over him, to Vander Blue admitting that Williams tells him “all the time” that he’s not any good.

I’ve only constantly been around one coach, Williams, but I believe him when he says he’s transparent, that he speaks the same way to the media as he does his players. The man who begins practices at 7:17 a.m. and holds individual player meetings at 2:43 p.m. doesn’t have time to waste sugar-coating his answers to the media. What you see is what you get. And what Marquette gets is tough love.

And with that tough loves comes harsh realities. What comes with tough love is sitting on the bench if you aren’t one of the five hardest-working players in practice. What comes with tough love is being sent home for the summer when you don’t fully appreciate your scholarship. What comes with tough love is having to sometimes believe things will get better, even when you can’t see it.

But what Williams’ players understand, in addition to those realities, is that with tough love comes wins. With tough loves comes Big East titles. With tough love comes Sweet 16s. And maybe, just maybe, with tough love comes a Final Four.

But Buzz doesn’t just get to snap his fingers and make this sort of thing happen. His players had to buy into what he was selling. They had to be disciplined.

Somewhere in the middle of Day 5 of Boot Camp, while each player ran sprints in the wee hours of the morning, sweating profusely, dodging vomit as they attempted to make time, someone needed the discipline to know that whatever the hell Buzz was trying to prove, it one day would prove worthwhile.

Maybe it was freshman Steve Taylor, who had to dig deep and remember his conversation with Jimmy Butler on his unofficial visit, when Butler told him under Williams and Marquette was where he became the person he is today. If an unknown junior college player was willing to work for Williams, how could the best recruit from Chicago fail?

It could have been the senior Junior Cadougan, who required the discipline to think about when he tore his Achilles as a freshman and said he didn’t want to play basketball anymore. Williams didn’t give up on him then, so how could he give up on Williams now?

Davante Gardner went from a 300+ pound freshman who couldn’t log more than 20 minutes to the reason his team beat Syracuse–today’s opponent–this season, with Gardner logging 33 minutes. If Williams took the time to set up daily workouts and nutrition guides for him–and all of his players–how could Gardner not have the discipline to give his all any time Buzz asked for it?

None of the Marquette players need to understand Williams’ wacky methods, his love for numbers or incredible attention to detail. Some of them probably don’t. They just need to understand that it works. And they have. Being one of eight teams in the country still playing for a national championship has proven that.

Again, I’ve never been around another college basketball team. But I do read about other teams, and none of those teams’ players speak about their coaches as much as Marquette does about Buzz. Sure, he’s a media darling and every writer wants their own take and angle on him, but most of the answers from players that involve his name aren’t prompted. They believe the guy who believed in them, simple as that.

Marquette wasn’t going to the Elite 8, potentially the Final Four, on its own. Buzz’s X’s and O’s have helped take his team to where it is now, but none of it would have been possible if his players didn’t have the discipline to buy into everything, not just some of it, that Williams was selling.

The Golden Eagles may be done playing by 5 p.m. tonight, but in a season where they have been labeled tough, athletic, relentless, and everything in between, I’ll remember this group as disciplined.

I’ll remember this team as one that gave their all to a coach who asked for it, and a coach who gave his all back beyond any of their wildest dreams.

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4 Comments on “The adjective I use to describe Marquette”

  1. Loren Farr
    March 30, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Buzz has you doing stats. 243 articles 😉
    Thanks for all the work Paint Touches. Some solid writing and powerful insights.
    A tip of the hat from the Tulsa Warrior

  2. Jake 74
    March 30, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Astute, thorough, reflective and true: a disciplined description of a disciplined team and one of MU’s very finest.

  3. March 30, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Nice job Mark! Thank you, I really enjoy your articles.

  4. Tim
    March 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Great article Mark. I hope you cover MU for another 4 years. You do a fantastic job.

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