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.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.