Marquette’s story in recent years has frequently been about switchables – the players who defy conventional positional labels to create matchup struggles for opponents of the Golden Eagles. That’s not to say that coach Buzz Williams has no use for those with obvious basketball bona fides such as being really, really tall.
Marquette made the Sweet 16 last season despite a December 6 injury to Chris Otule, the 6’10” natural center who figured — at bare minimum — to be a defensive eraser in the paint. His absence left 6’8″ Davante Gardner as the tallest player on the roster. Gardner and Jae Crowder did what Buzz Williams’ switchables always do, and gritted it out against larger, stronger opponents. But you can bet they’d have had an easier time with Otule in the middle.
Otule has seen some setbacks along the road to recovery, but he thrilled Marquette fans this weekend by declaring himself healthy and ready to go for the 2012-13 season.
“I’m right on track. I feel like I can do anything,” Otule said. “I practice without any limitations, all of that.”
Buzz Williams admitted he has held back Otule in some drills as a precaution, but as a whole is happy where his fifth-year senior is right now.
“He’s becoming one of my favorite human beings of all-time,” Williams said. “His story is what college athletics, it’s what life is supposed to be about. I have been over-protective of him, relative to our work. But all the things that he’s overcome, just to be part of the team picture in 15 minutes, I think that’s really, really cool.”
Otule, who turns 23 in January, played six minutes in Marquette’s first public scrimmage of the season, scoring four points and hauling down four rebounds. The Golden Eagles open their season November 9 against Ohio State in Charleston, South Carolina.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.