Greska: What does the Shaka hiring say about Marquette?

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

I’ve spent the last few weeks engrossed with stats. Good, bad, ugly, strange, to the point that I see numbers in my sleep.

Not that it’s THAT unusual for me, of course, but in making the case against Wojo, I went deeper and broader than I had in years. And in then assessing potential replacements, it was a whole new set of data points to try and take in.

It was a lot in a short time span. Too much. Kind of like how when you look at a word’s spelling a bit too long the word itself starts looking strange and making no sense? So I don’t want to talk stats right now. I will once again point you to Cracked Sidewalks for a brilliant analysis of the statistical case for Shaka.

No, I want you to indulge me a bit so I can talk about the emotional aspect.

Dealing with Done Deal

Done Deal left scars. For those unfamiliar or needing a refresher, here’s a deep dive from Mark. Basically, though, back during the search for Buzz Williams’ replacement in 2014, local media called Shaka Smart to Marquette a Done Deal, which of course did not turn out to be the case.

These things happen and they usually don’t lead to jokes and jeering 7 years later. But the reason so many in the MU community still reference it is that I believe there’s a good chunk of me (and the collective us) that has never gotten over that twin rejection.

First you had Buzz, a man that had won big and promised to stay as long as Marquette would have him leaving for a job no one considered a step up in Virginia Tech. And doing so while doing his best to tear down a league and a TV partnership in its infancy, desperate for validation.

Then you had Shaka, the hottest coaching name in the game, at that time, supposedly bringing some of that validation back, only to hoist Marquette back as a national laughing stock. “You think Shaka is going to stoop down to that level?” the national media seemed to say. And of course, he didn’t.

Tie that inauspicious start to an underwhelming tenure, and add in a sprinkle of Hauser transfer, and Wojo was battling more than just opposing teams. He could not make Marquette relevant in a national landscape, which is something that can be held against him. Becoming a bottom half Big East team was not and is not acceptable.

Irrelevance

But try as he might, he couldn’t bring that validation of worth back to the collective fanbase, which wasn’t in his job description, but lingered below the surface throughout. In fact, his stoic and robotic media personality probably hurt him in this regard more than anything. When he jumped on a radio show, you knew exactly what he was going to say and could pretty much tune him out.

I know I did.

When’s the last time you caught the Marquette basketball radio show. Do they even have a weekly TV hit? I follow Marquette closer than most, and I honestly haven’t gone out of my way to catch a Wojo interview (if he had done them) in years.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wojo needed to be bombastic to succeed, but his demeanor, a normally positive quality, combined with the mediocre on court results meant Marquette was never really a national name in his tenure. Markus Howard posted one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent history, comparable only to Trae Young and Steph Curry, and yet he rarely had ink spilled for him. I had national writers admit he deserved more publicity in 2020, so no, it wasn’t just a Marquette fan overestimating the importance of a Marquette player.

All of this it to say, Marquette didn’t matter any more. It wasn’t a player in the Big East. It was a blip nationally. Most painfully, its own fans had tuned out the team at best, and turned on it at worst.

Wojo’s dismissal a week ago was shocking in that it seemed to imply crazy fans weren’t the only ones to think this way. The people most responsible for maintaining Marquette’s stature seemed to agree that change was needed.

#2Done2Deal

And that brings us full circle to Shaka.

When Jeff Goodman brought up his name as a possible target, I laughed. It just wasn’t reasonable to think Marquette could poach a coach from one of the best jobs in the country, particularly one that had just won the Big 12 Tournament and earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Texas proceeded to lose at the last second to Abilene Christian the next day, and what once seemed laughable became a bit more plausible.

MU needed an experienced coach. Texas wasn’t happy with its March results. Shaka needed a fresh start.

As the week progressed, rumors swirled that it was down to Shaka and Porter Moser, with different branches of the administration advocating for differing candidates. I didn’t think Shaka would get it because fairly or not, he represents heightened expectations immediately.

Hiring Moser (if and when he was available) meant there would be a natural adjustment period to implement his system and recruit his type of players. But with 2 deep runs at Loyola of all places, he’d be given as much time as he needed. He was the “safe” choice.

Hiring Shaka was the opposite. With some very high profile flameouts and no NCAA Tournament wins since 2013, there is going to be intense pressure to win now. Never mind that Shaka’s regular season career is miles (and I mean MILES) better than Moser’s in almost every respect, the March goose egg meant that he will have an enormous bullseye from Day 1.

So what does the Shaka hire say about Marquette?

Whether the gamble ends up paying off or not isn’t something we’ll be able to answer for years. But the process to get here, and what it says about the program should be applauded.

By going all in on Shaka, Marquette garnered glowing press and reinforced that it was a player nationally, laid some long festering demons to bed, and put all the chips on the table to win big (and do it quickly).

It says this is a program that is aiming higher than many have given it credit for.

It says it worries not simply about running a clean program, but being in the spotlight.

It says it cares.

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Categories: Columns

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2 Comments on “Greska: What does the Shaka hiring say about Marquette?”

  1. Bob Wild
    March 27, 2021 at 4:15 pm #

    It says we are the landing spot for a coach about to get fired. Texas fans are jumping for joy.

  2. March 29, 2021 at 4:41 pm #

    https://www.redbubble.com/people/Boom-Shakalaka/shop?asc=u

    Check out these shirts we designed to celebrate the new hire, hope everyone else is as excited as I am!

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