Communication plays vital role in development of Marquette’s Vander Blue

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A recent growing buzzword in college basketball is the importance of the “culture” of a program. Culture within a college basketball program dictates how things work and it’s use as a word and as a concept is meant to influence players — and in some cases fans — into believing that certain activities or teachings are put in place as part of a daily routine to help the players on a team succeed and win games.

Some teams preach their culture and have a different identity every single season, or quickly lose focus of their culture within a season and unravel.

But after five consecutive NCAA Tournament bids and multiple former players defying initial NBA expectations, it’s no doubt that Buzz Williams’ culture for Marquette men’s basketball is working — and culture could be a big reason for their continued success in winning games at the college level and producing NBA players that are immediately prepared to contribute.

Former Marquette players under Buzz Williams like Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom have all had varying degrees of success in the NBA, but many of them defied their initial pro expectations to forge an identity on their NBA team.

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Draft hopeful and junior guard Vander Blue hopes to make the NBA as well, and he’s already focused on the culture of Marquette basketball under Buzz Williams as his backbone for success in the future.

“I think it’s the way we go about everything. Coach Buzz always makes it about getting our business done even though it’s college basketball. So we go about things as a professional would at the college level,” Blue told NBC Sports.

To hear Buzz Williams speak on the culture of Marquette basketball is an interesting thing. Many coaches in America are able to talk-the-talk, but in Buzz’s case, he has a very particular outline for his players and how they learn the cultural identity of Marquette basketball. And with five consecutive 20-plus win seasons and three consecutive trips to at least the Sweet 16, who is to argue with Marquette’s culture under Williams?

“It’s about accountability day-after-day and impacting our guys in a positive way so that when their career is finished, they’ll be prepared to succeed,” Williams told NBC Sports.

Culture for Marquette basketball focuses heavily on different forms of communication both on-and-off the floor.

“We spend an inordinate amount of time off-the-floor talking about communication and the ways that we can improve that,” Williams said. “We teach guys how to properly introduce themselves, how to make eye contact with people, how body language affects other people and how to say certain things and certain phrases. Every player is taught about body language and how to communicate to others by using basketball examples.”

Driving home “basketball examples” includes a Marquette student manager filming the team’s bench to pick up body language examples — both good and bad — and Williams also giving an initial vocabulary test to new players to make sure guys are using the correct terminology when talking about basketball within the Marquette program.

“We’re over-the-top in making sure our guys communicate,” Williams said. “We call (our terminology) the ‘words we use’. We have certain words and phrases for our program that we stress to our players and when we include those words in scouting reports, or if an assistant coach uses one of those words on the white board before a game it will always be in quotes to stress the importance of it.”

College kids are accustomed to taking written tests on a weekly basis, but they likely don’t come from their own head coach like Buzz Williams does with his players at Marquette.

“We give vocab tests to our new kids so that they figure out the terminology that we use and how we communicate with one another,” Williams said. “Our guys are going to hear the same words all the time and they’re expected to use those words to describe what we’re doing.

“I’ll spend 20 minutes with our new guys in July and say, ‘here’s the words we use,’ and I’ll use pictures and examples and explain it to them so we’re all on the same page. It’s really elementary, but it’s something that we really stress in our program and in our culture.”

Watching Vander Blue during the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in May, it’s clear that the value and message of communication within Marquette’s program has gotten through to him. Blue is one of the more vocal guards to work out and is constantly talking about basketball terminology to his trainers during the workout.

Blue believes that his ability to communicate and do the little things — things stressed heavily in Marquette’s basketball culture — will help him with his professional basketball future.

“Every practice you have to go hard and you have to talk and you have to speak to teammates; and these scouts like that,” Blue said. “Not all of the guys are loud and active, but (Williams) makes us do it. So you can be the quietest man in the world — but if you play for Coach Buzz — you have to talk, you have to help somebody out, you have to get on the floor, and you have to do the dirty work.”

But it wasn’t always easy for Blue to adjust to the college game and Marquette’s culture. The Madison, Wisconsin, native was the most highly touted recruit Buzz Williams had landed at Marquette — Blue was No. 24 overall and a five-star prospect in Rivals’ final Class of 2010 rankings — and after an up-and-down freshman season, Blue had a breakout year his sophomore year before becoming a key member of Marquette’s Elite Eight team during his junior season.

“For all of the hype (Vander) had in the region, after the type of year he had as a freshman, there were people that called him a bad player and me a bad coach but it was just the beginning of his growth in our program,” Williams said of Blue. “He had to adjust from playing in high school to playing high-major basketball and it will be another adjustment for him to adjust from high-major basketball to playing in the pros.”

Williams believes that Blue’s growth as a player helped him become the leader that he was on this season’s team, in which Marquette replaced departed veterans and 2012 NBA Draft second-round picks Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Blue averaged 14.8 points per game for the Golden Eagles and hit a few memorable clutch shots, including the game-winning layup to put Marquette past Davidson during an unbelievable come-from-behind effort in the NCAA Tournament.

“To replace two guys — of Jae and Darius’ caliber — Vander had to step up and be more than he was as a sophomore. That included being our leading scorer and consistently defending the other team’s best player on the perimeter,” Williams said. “Could he have done that as a freshman? No. Could he have down that as a sophomore? In certain times, yes, but that growth as a player helped him produce as he did as a junior.”

Blue also sees the value in his growth and maturation as a player. Although initially consumed by scoring as many players are after leaving high school, Blue learned to play a complete game thanks to Marquette’s culture.

“Everybody is so worried about scoring; scoring is only going to get you so far and there needs to be guys that are focused on preventing the other guy from scoring,” Blue said.

It doesn’t hurt that Blue’s close friend and Buzz Williams’ first signee at Marquette, Jimmy Butler, had a breakout second season with the Chicago Bulls. During Butler’s three years at Marquette — Jimmy’s freshman season was spent at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas — Butler also saw his game grow and Williams traces it back to his days at Marquette going through their program’s culture.

“Jimmy was the first player we signed at Marquette and he was the type of player that never missed a practice, never missed a game, never missed a late session and always went to every class,” Williams said “He was a guy that we counted on and that’s happened as well in his growth with the Bulls because he’s put in the daily work for a long period of time.”

Blue called Butler “one of his closest friends” and said the two still talk regularly. Of course, communication among Marquette players is an important thing and although some of Buzz Williams’ former players have moved on to the bright lights of the NBA, they are still embedded in the Marquette culture of communicating on and off-the-floor with their teammates.

“I talk to Jimmy pretty much every day. He always tells me to go hard and don’t worry about things because everything is going to play itself out,” Blue said. “He has all the confidence in the world in me, as well as DJ and Jae. They played with me every day. They know what my game’s about, and they know how I compete and everybody is supporting me throughout this process.”

2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?

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Here is a full list of the players that have signed with an agent, declared and are testing the waters and those that have decided to return to school.

Underclassmen have until April 22nd to declare for the NBA draft this season and until 11:59 p.m. on May 30th to remove their name from consideration.

The NBA Combine will be held May 16-20 this year. 

The full list of early entrants, from both the collegiate and international ranks, can be found here.

DECLARED, SIGNING WITH AGENT

TESTING THE WATERS

  • ESA AHMAD, West Virginia
  • MIKE AMIUS, Western Carolina
  • KOSTAS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Dayton
  • UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
  • SEDRICK BAREFIELD, Utah
  • TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse
  • LAMONTE BEARDEN, Western Kentucky
  • BRIAN BOWEN, Louisville
  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College
  • JORDAN BRANGERS, South Plains
  • BARRY BROWN, Kansas State
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn
  • TOOKIE BROWN, Georgia Southern
  • TROY BROWN, Oregon
  • C.J. BURKS, Marshall
  • JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
  • HAANIF CHEATEM, FGCU
  • KAMERON CHATMAN, Detroit
  • YOELI CHILDS, BYU
  • CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell
  • TYLER COOK, Iowa
  • ISAAC COPELAND JR., Nebraska
  • BRYANT CRAWFORD, Wake Forest
  • MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State
  • JON DAVIS, Charlotte
  • JORDAN DAVIS, Northern Colorado
  • SHAWNTREZ DAVIS, Bethune Cookman
  • TERENCE DAVIS, Ole Miss
  • TYLER DAVIS, Texas A&M
  • NOAH DICKERSON, Washington
  • DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova
  • TORIN DORN, N.C. State
  • NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
  • JON ELMORE, Marshall
  • JACOB EVANS, Cincinnati
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
  • JARREY FOSTER, SMU
  • MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane
  • WENYEN GABRIEL, Kentucky
  • KAISER GATES, Xavier
  • EUGENE GERMAN, Northern Illinois
  • ADMON GILDER, Texas A&M
  • MICHAEL GILMORE, FGCU
  • JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown
  • TYLER HALL, Montana State
  • JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA
  • ZACH HANKINS, Xavier
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
  • JARED HARPER, Auburn
  • MALIK HINES, UMass
  • ARIC HOLMAN, Mississippi State
  • JALEN HUDSON, Florida
  • DEWAN HUELL, Miami
  • KEVIN HUERTER, Maryland
  • TRAMAINE ISABELL, Drexel
  • DEANGELO ISBY, Utah State
  • JUSTIN JAMES, Wyoming
  • ZACH JOHNSON, Miami
  • CHRISTIAN KEELING, Charleston Southern
  • DEVONTE KLINES, Montana State
  • SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia
  • KALOB LEDOUX, McNeese State
  • MARQUEZ LETCHER-ELLIS, RICE
  • ABDUL LEWIS, NJIT
  • MAKINDE LONDON, Chattanooga
  • DOMINIC MAGEE, Southern Miss
  • FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford
  • CALEB MARTIN, Nevada
  • CODY MARTIN, Nevada
  • ZANE MARTIN, Towson
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
  • LUKE MAYE, North Carolina
  • JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State
  • CHRISTIAN MEKOWULU, Tennessee State
  • AARON MENZIES, Seattle
  • ELIJAH MINNIE, Eastern Michigan
  • SHELTON MITCHELL, Clemson
  • TAKAL MOLSON, Canisius
  • JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana
  • MATT MORGAN, Cornell
  • TRAVIS MUNNINGS, Louisiana-Monroe
  • RENATHAN ONA EMBO, Tulane
  • JOSH OKOGIE, Georgia Tech
  • JAMES PALMER JR., Nebraska
  • LAMAR PETERS, Mississippi State
  • JALON PIPKINS, CSUN
  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
  • JONTAY PORTER, Missouri
  • MARCQUISE REED, Clemson
  • TRAYVON REED, Texas Southern
  • ISAIAH REESE, Canisius
  • CODY RILEY, UCLA
  • KERWIN ROACH II, Texas
  • JEROME ROBINSON, Boston College
  • AHMAAD RORIE, Montana
  • QUINTON ROSE, Temple
  • ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
  • MICAH SEABORN, Monmouth
  • RONSHAD SHABAZZ, Appalachian State
  • TAVARIUS SHINE, Oklahoma State
  • CHRIS SILVA, South Carolina
  • YANKUBA SIMA, Oklahoma State
  • FRED SIMS, Chicago State
  • OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul
  • DESHON TAYLOR, Fresno State
  • KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton
  • REID TRAVIS, Stanford
  • JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky
  • LAGERALD VICK, Kansas
  • CHRISTIAN VITAL, Connecticut
  • JAYLIN WALKER, Kent State
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State
  • TREMONT WATERS, LSU
  • PJ WASHINGTON, Kentucky
  • QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, Mississippi State
  • ANDRIEN WHITE, Charlotte
  • DEMAJEO WIGGINS, Bowling Green
  • LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State
  • AUSTIN WILEY, Auburn
  • KRIS WILKES, UCLA
  • JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

RETURNING TO SCHOOL

 

Former Texas center James Banks III transfers to Georgia Tech

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After playing sparingly in two seasons at Texas, 6-foot-10 center James Banks III made the decision to transfer. Tuesday night Banks announced his next stop, with the Decatur, Georgia native committing to Georgia Tech.

After sitting out the 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules, Banks will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

In 46 total games at Texas, Banks averaged 1.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 10.7 minutes per game. As a freshman Banks appeared in 32 games and averaged 12.4 minutes per appearance, contributing 1.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. With the additions of Mohamed Bamba and Jericho Sims, Banks’ playing time decreased in 2017-18, as he appeared in 14 games and averaged 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 6.8 minutes per game.

Georgia Tech currently has four scholarship front court players for the 2018-19 season, with one being rising redshirt senior forward Abdoulaye Gueye. Rising redshirt junior Sylvester Ogbonda and rising sophomores Evan Cole and Moses Wright will have eligibility remaining when Banks becomes available to compete at the start of the 2019-20 season.

Villanova basketball team snaps photo with Meek Mill prior to 76ers game

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Tuesday’s Game 5 between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers was a big one for both teams, as the visiting Heat were looking to stave off elimination and the 76ers were one win away from their first playoff series victory in six years.

What added to the atmosphere at Wells Fargo Center was the release of hip hop artist Meek Mill, who due to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling was released from prison. Among those also in attendance were the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats, who along with comedian Kevin Hart, Meek Mill and the artist’s lawyers took a photo prior to the game.

Villanova was originally scheduled to handle the pregame ringing of the replica Liberty Bell, but they were bumped due to Meek Mill’s release.

City prosecutors were of the belief that Meek Mill, who had been imprisoned without bail since November, was entitled to a new trial after being found guilty of a probation violation stemming from a conviction handed down in 2009. This was a factor in the Supreme Court’s decision to grant Meek Mill, who rang the bell prior to the start of Tuesday’s game, his freedom.

Meek Mill received a groundswell of support throughout his incarceration from members of the 76ers and Super Bowl champion Eagles and other public figures, including 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Ohio State lands grad transfer Keyshawn Woods

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With three of the team’s top five scorers from this season, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, moving on Ohio State entered the offseason in need of players who could potentially have an immediate impact in 2018-19.

Tuesday evening the Buckeyes picked up a commitment from a grad transfer, as former Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods announced that he will play his final season at Ohio State.

Woods appeared in 28 games for the Demon Deacons in 2017-18, averaging 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 25.7 minutes per game. The 6-foot-3 guard was used primarily as a reserve this past season, making just five starts for Wake Forest. Woods began his collegiate career at Charlotte, playing the 2014-15 season there before transferring to Wake Forest.

During the 2016-17 season, the first in which he was eligible to play at Wake Forest, Woods started 22 of the 33 games he played in and averaged 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Woods shot 49.5 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three during that campaign, and the hope in Columbus is that he can get back to that level in his lone season as a Buckeye.

Ohio State’s best returnee on the perimeter next season will be rising junior C.J. Jackson, who averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as a sophomore. Ohio State also adds a talented freshman class that includes guards Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad. Florida State transfer C.J. Walker will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the upcoming campaign per NCAA transfer rules.

Memphis to recruit in style with new souped-up van

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Traveling during live recruiting periods isn’t the most enjoyable process for college basketball coaches, with many having to work their way through airports and car rental lines in order to keep tabs on players they’re recruiting. For the programs at the top of the sport a private plane may be available, which certainly helps.

In the case of Penny Hardaway’s Memphis program, the coaching staff will be hitting the road in style as he showed off a new, souped-up van via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

Notice the “One Cent” logo in the headrests, making it clear whose van it is and what Hardaway’s accomplished in the game of basketball as a player. For those too young to be intimately familiar with his playing career, Hardaway’s work with the Bluff City Legends (named Team Penny when he was in charge) on the Nike EYBL circuit and at Memphis East HS will likely register.

Since Hardaway’s hiring he and his staff, which includes assistants Tony Madlock and two-time NBA champion Mike Miller, have made Memphis a player on the recruiting trail. Will the van reel in top prospects? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s no denying the fact that Hardaway and his staff have already managed to connect in a way that the prior coaching staff was unable to.

Now we wait for the anonymous complaint from another athletic department to the NCAA about Hardaway and Memphis having this van, because that’s generally the way in which these things work.