Greska: Class of 2013 crucial for Buzz Williams


Jajuan Johnson, Deonte Burton and Duane Wilson are crucial for Marquette Buzz Williams to continue having recruiting success.

Note: I hate hyperbole in writing. There are so many words in the English language to accurately portray a certain event/feeling/situation that going to the extremes strikes me as lazy and unintelligent.

It’s even more irritating in sports writing. If you can’t find an apt comparison without thoughtlessly drabbing generalizations all over the place, you might as well keep your mouth shut or pen capped. I say this not to sound pompous but to preface the next sentence.

The 2013 recruiting class will be Buzz William’s most important in his career. Full stop.

This is not a Whitlockian approach at clicks and fauxversies. I honestly believe the 2013 recruiting class consisting of Duane Wilson, Jajuan Johnson, Deonte Burton, Jameel McKay and John Dawson will end up being the most critical in Buzz’ tenure.

Think that’s a gross exaggeration? Let’s go through this step by step.

When I was compiling data for last week’s transfer analysis, I came across a curious observation: Buzz William’s recruiting of non-JUCO/transfer players is more than disappointing, it’s quite bad.

In total Buzz has gotten commitments from 21 high school players since April 2008 when he became the head coach at Marquette. Of those 21, we have to cut the four from this year’s class as they haven’t played a minute and as such can’t judge them based on their play. That leaves us with 17 players over a five year span. We can subtract another two from that total as D.J. Newbill and Aaron Durley never made it to campus. (This is where things get a bit hazy as they are not technically transfers, but it was not their decision to move on, rather the other way around. I can easily buy the argument that they should count as recruiting misses for Buzz and his staff. However, unlike with Brett Roseboro, the scholarship vacated was filled so for the sake of this column they won’t be included in future statistics.)

Of the 15 players to come straight from high school, six have transferred in the traditional sense of the word, with one leaving just before fall classes began. Of the eight remaining, four can be categorized as great recruits/major contributors and four as good recruits/contributors.

In the great recruit category I’d place Chris Otule, Davante Gardner, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue. All four of those players have been integral parts of a team’s success and have made an impact greater than an average replacement player.

In the good recruit category I have Todd Mayo, Steve Taylor, Juan BuzzplayerchartAnderson and Derrick Wilson. Each of these players has seen regular, though limited, playing time and has contributed statistically, though not consistently. All four will see their roles increase this season and could easily move up to great recruit status.

A 53 percent success rate (8 of 15) isn’t terrible, per se. No coach in the country will hit on every recruit as even the Jon Calipari’s and Mike Krzyzewski’s of the world commonly have players transfer out. Not being terrible by no means makes it good, though. It would be one thing if a few of those eight “good” recruits was a star, but with Blue leaving after his junior year, there has yet to be a true breakout player from the high school ranks.

Buzz best recruits haven’t been the straight from high school variety. (This is the part where you yell at your screen that Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward all were all pretty darn good and they came from high school. Remember, they were Tom Crean recruits and we are simply looking at Buzz.) Instead, Marquette has thrived using junior college players. In fact, I’d be willing to venture that Buzz Williams is the best JUCO developer in the country. The news of Dwight Buycks getting signing with the Toronto Raptors meant four of his five junior college recruits have made the NBA, with the fifth, Joe Fulce, never developing due to unfortunate knee injuries. I tried to do the research on coaches with as much JUCO NBA success and couldn’t find any other coach to send more than two JUCOs to the NBA, but the data prior to 2007 is meager at best. If I was a JUCO, I would pray for Buzz to recruit me.

Don’t take my word for it. Here is what ESPN analyst Jason King had to say about Buzz in 2011: “When it comes to junior college players, no coach does that better than Marquette’s Williams.”

All is good then, right? Buzz can just bolster any sub par high school recruiting with phenomenal JUCOs. Wrong. Part of the friction between Buzz and the administration last year was due to the fact that it is becoming more difficult for him and his staff to bring on JUCOs. Obviously that doesn’t mean he is forbidden from them, as Jameel McKay is coming to Marquette from junior college, but the bar has been raised on the admittance process. Marquette currently has one JUCO on its roster and I would expect that to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Without as many JUCOs, high school recruiting becomes even more imperative.

What makes this class any more important than last year’s or next year’s? It’s a combination of the high ranking and timing.

The 2013 class has more RSCI top-60 (3) recruits than Buzz has had in his career (2). Jajuan Johnson is No. 30, Deonte Burton is No. 54 and Duane Wilson is No. 59. Now don’t get me wrong, recruiting rankings are consistently inaccurate and don’t come close to predicting success. After all Erik Williams (76) and Jamail Jones (69) both cracked the top-80 while Davante Gardner was a lowly three star that didn’t show up in any top-100 lists. There’s no question who the best player of those three is.

Where the rankings will matter is with perception. Buzz can sell JUCOs simply by writing the names of his four players in the NBA, slipping it under their doorstep and walking away. That’s not the case for high schoolers. Barring a miracle, Vander Blue, Buzz’ highest RSCI-rated recruit, will be spending next season in the D-League or in Europe. If you are a high ranked high schooler, Diamond Stone for example, do you take your chances with Buzz Williams or do you go to Georgetown, Florida or North Carolina where there is a long and established history of taking high schoolers to the NBA. Obviously NBA development isn’t the only factor, but when you start talking about elite prospects, it is definitely a prominent one.

Davante Gardner will have an outside shot at making the League next season, but barring breakout years from Steve Taylor or Juan Anderson (a very long shot, I realize) the 2013 class will have the best chance at developing into NBA material.

All that being said, should Johnson transfer closer to home within a year, Burton never develop, and Wilson prove too inconsistent, by no means would Marquette spiral into DePaul territory. It may be tougher to get five stars to sign on, but Buzz Williams has proven time and again he is a great coach and talent developer. His relationship with players and love of the game will continue to make him a successful coach whether or not he lands highly touted teenagers.

So again, why is this class so important? Should Buzz be able to groom this group into draft picks, All-American status and some conference honors, he will have proven that he can take any type of recruit and maximize their potential. He’s done it with JUCOs, transfers and hidden gems. All that is missing is taking top tier talent to the next level. This class gives him that opportunity.

With an unproven conference and TV partner, maintaining a high level of recruiting is not a given. Succeeding with the 2013 class will erase any doubts with prospective students, parents and coaches, making it that much easier to do so.

Marquette and Buzz Williams are on the verge of taking the step from being great recruiters to being elite. The 2013 class holds the key.

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