Don’t bother trying to figure out how many underdog stories have involved Buzz Williams. The computer to do such calculations hasn’t yet been invented.
There’s the Marquette basketball coach’s own journey, of course, which has generated just a few words through the years. And there are those of his teams, not just at Marquette, but at every stop along the line, be it as a head coach, an assistant or a neophyte at Navarro Junior College.
There are the stories having nothing to do with sports, lives Williams has touched through his charitable work – kids in Buzz’s Bunch, benefactors from Briggs and Al’s run, and so many others.
And there are the individual stories of all the players he’s coached, two of which just happened to be on national television Tuesday night.
Yes, coincidence demanded that Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom begin their inaugural NBA seasons much like they ended their college careers at Marquette – by being together. Crowder wore a Dallas Mavericks uniform and scored eight points off the bench, which happened to be Dallas’ winning margin in a 99-91 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, meanwhile, kept Johnson-Odom inactive, but that didn’t diminish this latest underdog story – two Marquette guys on an NBA stage that few thought they’d ever reach.
“Last year at this time,” Williams said at Marquette’s Oct. 12 media day, “nobody thought Jae and DJ were any good.”
And once upon a time, before they were cashing NBA paychecks, nobody thought fellow Marquette alums Wes Matthews, Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward were any good, either.
“It’s just amazing that every year, coach has continued to put guys from college basketball into the NBA,” said senior guard Trent Lockett. “That says a lot about the program and the coaching staff here.”
Lockett has his own underdog story. He transferred to Marquette from Arizona State this year after his mother’s leukemia diagnosis, her second bout with cancer, in order to be closer to her Minnesota home. Leukemia played a role in his father’s death, too. Not all coincidences are welcomed ones.
But Lockett isn’t one to dwell, and he’s also rather good at basketball. Not many folks may be aware of this fact. Yet, anyway.
In time, people may come to better appreciate Lockett’s skills. In time, they may do the same about this latest Marquette team, too.
Consecutive Sweet 16 appearances didn’t hold much weight with the nation’s top 25 voters, who didn’t award the Golden Eagles a spot in their preseason rankings. Their reasoning is understandable, given that Crowder and Johnson-Odom left with 47.7 percent of Marquette’s scoring and 33 percent of its rebounding. Which gave Williams a chance to dip into his mélange of metaphors.
“Every team is a house, and we all live in that house,” Williams said, “and when the season’s over, that house goes on the market. You can’t live in it again.”
But if the Golden Eagles keep moving, they keep finding houses that are strikingly similar. Year after year, they land in a fixer-upper and flip it for a tidy profit.
So despite all of their success under Williams – four straight 20-win seasons, four straight NCAA berths, the two Sweet 16s that netted an invitation to the Nov. 9 Carrier Classic – some things never change.
“We’re still the underdog,” Williams said.
Seems they always will be, so long as Williams is there. “Our role as an underdog is probably more because of my mentality and my personality than it is anything else.”
Or as Lockett puts it, “Putting ourselves in the underdog position is the only way we know how to do it.”
Sounds like he’s making himself right at home.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. And listen to me chat sports with Mitch Teich monthly on WUWM’s “Lake Effect.”