Rumors that came on strong last Tuesday only magnified throughout the week that junior guard Vander Blue was considering forgoing his senior year to enter the 2013 NBA draft. Those rumors came to fruition earlier today when Blue announced he had played his final game in a Marquette uniform, and that he was pursuing his life-long dream of an NBA career.
We’ll be following Blue–perhaps the entire way, if he agrees to a Jae Crowder-like “Path to the NBA” series we did a year ago–but with Blue out of the picture for the 2013-’14 season, the question becomes who will fill the void left by his instant offense, athletic rebounding and lock-down defense?
Maybe it’s worth looking first at what Buzz Williams must replace. Blue was Marquette’s leading scorer at 14.8 points, attempted a team-high 27.6 percent of team shots while on the court and played a team high 33 minutes per game. He was the “go-to guy” the team needed after losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom–to the NBA draft, ironically. Every year since Williams took over since 2008 Marquette lost its top player, and this year will be no different.
And as everyone expected, will-be junior Todd Mayo should get the first crack at replacing Blue. OK, so no one saw this coming. Two months ago if anyone had been posed the question, “Vander Blue and Todd Mayo: Who will not be on the roster and which will start at shooting guard next year?” the answer would have been obvious: Blue starts as a senior and Mayo had moved on. Not so much.
Mayo, who, from all accounts inside the program was unlikely to return after his first-semester suspension, immediately becomes a major role player. He hasn’t proved to be consistent in two years off the bench–6.8 points in 18.3 minutes–but has shown a knack for coming alive when given extended minutes. Perhaps with a starter’s mentality entering a full offseason of practice the clearly talented Mayo will mold into a sufficient starter. He won’t replicate Blue’s All-Big East second team season, but he can be an impact player. He’s proven that.
But the trickle-down effect of a starter leaving goes deeper than who will replace him in the lineup. Mayo isn’t going to play 40 minutes a night–or even the 33 Blue averaged last year–meaning others must step up in reserve roles.
Last year the back-up 2-guard role went to Jake Thomas and, when Marquette went to a bigger lineup, Trent Lockett. The former has since transferred out of the program and the latter graduated, and a third option, Jamal Ferguson, also transferred early last week.
That makes incoming freshman Jajuan Johnson’s arrival all the more important. The 6-foot-4 sharpshooter averaged 20.6 points in 34 games (according to MarquetteHoops.com’s recruit tracker)–six of his 40 games weren’t tracked, for Southwind High School, helping his team to a state title. He projects as a slasher with an above-average jump shot, similar to what Blue provided. He did this against an excruciating schedule, playing against Oak Hill Acadamy, Lone Peak and Simeon, all nationally-ranked teams in the country.
When Johnson committed in November, he told Paint Touches he expected to contribute immediately. The Marquette staff relayed to Johnson they wanted him to lead the freshman class in scoring, specifically from beyond the arc. The staff also said he will be used in pick-and-roll action to get to the lane, too.
Johnson also told Paint Touches he was excited about Marquette because he could see playing time right away, due to Mayo’s suspension and unclear future at the time. Ironically he’ll likely play alongside Mayo instead of replacing him.
Fellow freshman Deonte Burton could see an uptick in playing time, but he projects more as Trent Lockett-type than a true shooting guard with a perimeter threat. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 but plays bigger than that, also similar to Lockett.
But the third option in this scenario is Duane Wilson. The second-highest rated recruit in the 2013 class–Johnson is first–played the point for Dominican H.S., helping his team to two state titles–but he’s also a potential fit off-the-ball.
Consider that the 6-foot-3 Wilson shot an almost unimaginable 55 percent from beyond the arc last year. Wilson attributes this to his short stature as a grade-school player, relegated to the perimeter, but his picture-perfect form and aggressiveness could serve him well if he’s forced to play at the “two.”
With the news of Juan Anderson leaving, coupled with Blue’s early entrance to the NBA, Marquette now has two unused scholarships for the 2013-’14 season.
It’s likely Marquette will enter the season with more than its current 11 scholarship players–remember, though, 2012 transfer Garrett Swanson, a walk-on, could earn a scholarship in the same fashion Thomas did.
That leaves three options: 1) Sign a high school recruit or junior-college transfer; 2) bring in a transfer who can play immediately; or 3) bring in a transfer who will have to sit out a year, per NCAA rules. Here is a list of transfers, both of whom can either play right away or must sit a year, as well as the top uncommitted junior-college prospects. There’s no word on who Marquette may be looking at, but that could heat up in the coming days or weeks.
What is known is Marquette’s top priority in the 2014 class is five-star shooting guard Ahmed Hill. The Golden Eagles coaching staff recently made a visit to Georgia to see him in-house, and he’s considering Marquette.
There’s no denying Marquette takes a hit at the shooting-guard position with Blue’s decision. But this is still a super-talented team which should begin ranked in the top-15 in most preseason polls. Mayo and Johnson will form a two-headed monster with, surprisingly, more outside punch than last year’s duo of Blue and Lockett. That’s not to say Marquette won’t miss Blue–it will–but there are still formidable backcourt options to pair up with as talented a frontcourt as the team has seen in decades.