In the coming weeks, perhaps days, you will make a life-altering decision. You, a 23-year-old graduate, must choose whether to return for a sixth and final season in Milwaukee, or walk away and pursue a basketball career overseas or another using the professional communication major you graduated with in December.
You will sit down with Buzz Williams soon and figure out the pros and cons of each, and while only you know what is best for your future, I think you’ll find that the better option is to make one final run wearing the blue and gold.
For the last two weeks you were a key contributor in Marquette’s Elite 8 run, averaging 6.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 19.8 highly-efficient minutes. That NCAA Tournament performance came on the heels of your first full healthy season in a Marquette uniform. You declared yourself 100 percent healthy at Midnight Madness. I had my doubts. But I was wrong. You were right.
You have seen each of the Golden Eagles’ five seasons under Williams, and what you’ll see next year is that 2013-’14 will be the most talented group yet. With its top three scorers set to return and a nationally-ranked recruiting class coming in May, Marquette likely will begin the season in the top-25 polls with a real chance to win the inaugural season in the new Big East. Who knows? You may even improve your stock if you decide to pursue an an international career. As long as you are healthy, both your skill set and potential are trending way, way up.
You would start in the middle, play a similar role as you did this past year and, maybe more important than that, provide mentoring to a host of young, talented players who could use a 6-foot-11 opponent on the court each day, and a stellar human being off it.
Jamil Wilson said himself that you, while nursing your ACL surgery last year, helped him from the sideline in practices and games as much as anyone. Davante Gardner has said on numerous occasions he wouldn’t be half the player he is today without your hard work against him in practice. Steve Taylor said his “welcome to college basketball” moment occurred when you D’ed him up in practice. You would be a crucial piece to Marquette’s rotation, but you’re also one of the team’s most important practice players and off-the-court leaders. There’s honor in that, and someone as humble as you understands that, too.
You’re also smart enough to know the value of a good education (and a good time): college. You graduated in December and have continued to take courses–you told me in February you were enrolled in a couple advertising classes–while you play. You aren’t in graduate school yet, but said that was something that may interest you in the near future, potentially as early as next year when you could apply for Marquette’s graduate program. You need 12 credits a semester, per NCAA rules, so it wouldn’t be too big a load, either, if you choose to continue working in undergrad studies toward a second major.
While personal accolades and becoming a mentor for some of the most talented players Marquette has seen in years is nice, your reach extends far beyond the program you’ll decide on soon.
When I spoke to you last year during your rehabilitation, you said you not only had received dozens of well-wishes from fans, but also stories from people who had suffered similar injuries of their own. Your determination to get back on the court and succeed inspired them, too, and with the story of your fake eye going national this year, those stories will be all the more frequent in your inbox.
You’ll always be a beloved figure in the Marquette community and your story won’t soon be forgotten, but one more year will only strengthen your legacy. I’m sure there are plenty of Europeans with stories similar to yours, but the fan base you have built in Milwaukee and across this country is unparalleled. Everyone loves a good underdog story, so what’s not to love about you, the biggest underdog who plays for one of the biggest perennial underdogs in the country?
But let’s be real here, there are valid reasons as to why you may not want to return. After this year’s personal and team success you would be going out on top. Your close friend and roommate, Junior Cadougan, is gone. Six years in college is a long time; maybe you’ve had enough. Risk of injury is a factor for anyone. There’s money to be made elsewhere.
But you have a legacy to continue and finish at Marquette. You can be the (sixth-year) senior leader on a team destined for greatness, playing for the head coach who believed in you six years ago after telling you how much you sucked. It would only be fitting for you to maximize your eligibility after injuries essentially robbed you of three seasons.
I have to admit there’s also a bit of personal agenda working here, too. While cheering for the team goes against rules of objectivity, perhaps the most rewarding part of this job is getting to root for the players and their story lines, wanting them to succeed because I understand the person behind the jersey, the Jordans and the wristbands. The person behind the goggles and the knee brace.
With maybe the exception of Jae Crowder, I can’t say I have cheered harder for any one player to succeed more than you. Your infectious personality is impossible not to root for and your background is Hollywood-worthy. I would love to see you come back for one last season.
And so would your teammates. Buzz, too. And when all the pros and cons of each choice have been listed and you’re ready to make a decision, so will you.