“Am I going to be a Hall of Fame coach? No. Am I going to write a book? No. What I’m going to do is work hard today, and then wake up and do it again tomorrow.” -Buzz Williams, Head Coach Marquette Men’s Basketball
When Marquette University hired Tom Crean’s assistant coach, Brent “Buzz” Williams, to be the Men’s Basketball head coach, a lot of people thought that the athletic department had taken the easy way out. But little did the Marquette community know that Williams himself does anything but take the easy way out. From the players to the practices, Williams has overhauled the entire men’s basketball program.
“We want to be the hardest-working, most competitive program in the country,” Williams said. And he has been making every effort to make it so, showing that Marquette might have picked the right coach after all.
Young Men First, Students Second and Players Third
In Williams’ first press conference as the Marquette Men’s Basketball head coach, he stated:
“The players in the program will not be judged always in accordance with their skill set or their talent. They will always be judged as people: as young men first, as students second and as players third. And the priorities in our program, the responsibilities within our program, will always be reflective of those things.”
The academic responsibilities for the basketball players are strictly enforced to ensure that these priorities are met.
Williams is “not going to give you any leeway,” according to Liam McMorrow, the sophomore transfer from Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario, who is redshirted this season due to National Collegiate Athletic Association transfer rules.
Each player has a personal, color-coded schedule from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day of the week detailing class, study hall hours, tutoring, basketball practice and weightlifting among other things. The graduate student coaching assistants and coaching staff escort the players to class to make sure that they are on time and that they do not leave class early.
“He really cares about our academics,” said David Cubillan, one of three juniors on the team. And so far, it has been paying off.
“I think I speak for everyone. Everyone, as far as academically is concerned, is doing much better… he’s definitely a help,” said Robert Frozena, the only walk-on of this year’s team, about the educational push the members of the team have received from Williams.
“They’re always accountable for each facet of their responsibilities,” Williams said, and according to Williams, the reason they can be held accountable is because “their character is very, very high.”
Four man groups, individual practice, team practice, and boot camp are only a few of the strategies that Williams has been using to prepare the team for the coming season. Yes, boot camp.
“Boot camp was seven or eight days. That was the longest seven or eight days of my life. But it was good,” said Lazar Hayward, returning junior forward. Boot camp was a series of intense practices where, Williams said, “our team is formed.” Every drill that was done had to be done correctly by each member of the team. If someone could not finish, everybody had to do it over again. Every single teammate was accountable for every other teammate. As Williams said, “Everyone has to pull their own weight… and [we have to] communicate as a team.”
Somehow, everyone got through it.
“They were blowing it out every day,” Williams said. “It’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Not only has their stamina and teamwork been tested, but Williams has the team “doing defensive drills day in and day out,” according to Dominic James, returning senior guard. Concerns over the short height of the team have sparked the emphasis put on the defensive side of the ball.
“We are little. We’re short. That’s not going to change… we’re going to have to be extraordinary good rebounders… I don’t think we’re going to struggle offensively. I think we can score enough points to win games. The question will be: How can we prevent our size from being a detriment to us defensively?” Williams said.
Jerel McNeal, returning senior guard, who has always been known as a defensive player, is excited for this change of focus. “We get everybody else to play at a high level defensively, then [that will] make things a lot easier for everybody.”
Williams has confidence that his players will do everything in their power to keep their height from affecting how they perform. “I think they’re hungry. I think they like to play from behind,” he said.
The players also receive personal coaching from Williams as part of his efforts to know his players well.
Wesley Matthews, one-third of Marquette’s “Big 3” along with Dominic James and Jerel McNeal, described how Williams wants him to play. “I’ve got to be a beast. I have to be everywhere. He wants me to basically let loose, just play the way I play, lead the way I lead, and just help.”
Joseph Fulce, a new sophomore recruit from Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, said, “He’s always trying to find a way to help us get better.”
As an extra impetus to becoming the best, Williams has let them know that their every effort has to be put on the court when the time comes. “If we don’t play hard, they’re not going to play… every single minute counts. Every single minute in a game counts,” Williams said.
All About God and Family
These new academic priorities and athletic strategies would not work if the team did not respect their coach. But they do.
“He’s one of the most hardest workers I’ve met in my life. I don’t think he sleeps,” Fulce said.
His commitment stands out, and not just his commitment to the men’s basketball team.
“He’s dedicated… he’s all about his God and his family,” said Dwight Burke, the only senior forward on the team. And now his family has expanded to include the basketball team.
“The thing that I really pay attention to is those 13 young men… what they’re doing off the court, what they’re doing in the classroom and what they’re doing on the court,” Williams said.
Some of the lessons he has been teaching his players have clearly sunk in.
“The most important thing that Buzz has taught us, is that every day is a work day, and if you’re not going to work every day, then you shouldn’t be here,” said Patrick Hazel, a sophomore forward.
Message to the Marquette Student Body
Although Williams admits that he has not done a good job connecting with the students, he knows how important the Marquette Fanatics are to the success of his team.
“The teams that have elite success have a major home court advantage, and the teams that have a major home court advantage [have it] because it’s derived from their student population. Our students have to continue what they’ve always been, because that changes what the atmosphere and the ambience is like at the Bradley Center,” Williams said.