Buzz Williams: ‘I better relate to guys who have had a rough start’

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There are few coaches in the country that are a better quote than Marquette’s Buzz Williams.

It’s one of the few rules I learned when covering my first Big East tournament: when Williams is talking, you better get to listening, because he’ll give you a quote worth publishing.

He’s logical, he’s smart, he’s honest and he references efficiency stats at press conferences. What’s not to like?

Perhaps the most impressive part of Williams’ character, however, is how he backs his players, almost to a fault, while still forcing them to take responsibility for their mistakes. Case in point: Williams made it quite obvious that Todd Mayo was suspended — the third time he’s been suspended as a member of the Marquette program — for his failings in the classroom. But he didn’t kick him out of the program. And Williams also opened up about why he was giving himself a one game suspension this season.

Transparency and loyalty are the two easiest ways to earn respect.

I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll get to the point: I loved this quote from Williams in a Q-and-A that was published by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Warning: long blockquote coming):

Q. You’ve raised a few eyebrows by taking on junior college transfers at what is perceived to be a high rate for a school like Marquette. Can you justify the value of transfers?

A. Uh, I’m a JUCO transfer so I probably have the perspective that a lot of people don’t have on those guys. When you look at the guys who have transferred here, let’s go in descending order. Jae Crowder will probably play 25 minutes (a game) for the Dallas Mavericks as a second-round pick. He was player of the year (in the Big East). I don’t know winning percentage-wise, but he would have to rank up there in the history of Marquette student-athletes in a two-year career. Darius Johnson-Odom was a qualifier out of high school, which meant he could have went Division I. He didn’t because of the NCAA Clearinghouse. Not blaming them, but there’s probably more problems with the Clearinghouse than your average follower would know.

Before that, it was Jimmy Butler. He was here for three years and never dropped a class. He never missed a practice. I held him out from starting against South Florida because he had a concussion, but he played in that game, so he never missed a game. He graduated on time, which is the same thing Darius did. He was a first-round pick. Joe Fulce, injury-ravaged career. He was a qualifier out of high school, committed while I was at Texas A&M, signed when I was at New Orleans, went to junior college because I wasn’t there. Came here when I was the head coach. Graduated. Probably didn’t have the career any of us would have thought because of the injuries he sustained. Is the toughest guy I’ve ever coached. He had a lot to do with the fabric of our culture while he was here.

Before that, Dwight Buycks. This is my fifth year, and we’ve had five junior college transfers. Dwight Buycks, from Milwaukee, the first kid from Milwaukee to come to Marquette in a long time. We desperately needed someone with experience you could replace Dominic, Jerel (McNeal) and Wesley. I thought he did really well at that. We were picked to finish 12th the year he arrived as a junior and we went to the NCAA Tournament and we went to the Sweet 16 as a senior.

I have never tried to be somebody I’m not. If you looked at the totality of the people I’ve hired and the people who have signed, they don’t necessarily have a trajectory that says, yes, I’m on my path to Marquette. My career path does not say that. So I do like to infuse our roster and our coaching staff with guys who are unbelievably hungry. I think that once you are hungry and you eat, you’re never full. In some demented way, that’s how I operate. So I’m attracted to and I’d better relate to guys who have had a rough start and a rough middle, for whatever reason.

I love that.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?