By: David Kay
Since I was a freshman at the fine Jesuit institution known as Marquette University, I have lived and died Marquette basketball to the point that I am absolutely obnoxious when watching the Golden Eagles play. I pace around like a father-to-be in the waiting room of the hospital while his wife is giving labor. I am superstitious, curse like a sailor, and bust out one of the best loud claps of all time during while watching MU play. I am crabby when they lose and rarely ever satisfied when they win, and I love every minute of it.
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My first year of college just so happened to coincide with the turning point of the basketball program, when Tom Crean took over as head coach in 1999. Since then, the hoops team has re-gained national respectability on a yearly basis and has become a player across the country. It is no longer strange to see MU in the top 25, landing big recruits, or throwing down dunks which in the late 90’s/early 2000’s was a rare treat to see from an MU baller.
This past decade also saw a major change for Marquette basketball; the switch to the Big East Conference. That move is directly related to the increased success MU has seen since it now plays in one of the best conferences in college basketball and receives exponentially more exposure on the national scene that it did when it was a member of the Great Midwest Conference or Conference USA.
The 2000’s also saw Marquette experience their first trip to the Final Four since winning the national title under Al McGuire in 1977. Dwyane Wade and company made a memorable run in the NCAA Tournament in 2003 before being ousted by Kansas in the Semifinals.
As this decade winds down, the men’s basketball program at Marquette is in wonderful hands. The respect is plentiful across the country and Buzz Williams has picked up right where Crean left off before bolting for Indiana. Let’s take a look back at the past ten years with my Marquette All-Decade Team.
PG-Travis Diener (2001-2005): The skinny, shaggy-haired, under-sized point guard from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is one of the best shooters in Marquette history. He was the starting point guard on the 2003 Final Four team and worked his way to becoming a second round pick by the Orlando Magic in 2005. Had it not have been for a broken hand late in his senior season, Diener likely would have become MU’s all-time leading scorer.
G-Jerel McNeal (2005-2009): McNeal ended up passing George Thompson as the school’s all-time leading scorer during his senior season when he also earned All-American Second Team honors. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year during his sophomore season but really developed into an all-around offensive threat during his four years in Milwaukee. McNeal is currently playing professionally in Belgium after being cut by the Clippers during training camp.
G-Dwyane Wade (2001-2003): After sitting out his freshman season due to ineligibility, Wade took Marquette basketball by storm, spear-heading the re-birth of the program. He is undoubtedly the best player in the history of the program and one of only three players to record a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game. His performance in leading MU to the Final Four vaulted his NBA Draft stock through the roof as electrified the Bradley Center every game with his highlight dunks and not-stop effort on both ends of the floor. Wade left Marquette after his junior season and was the sixth overall pick by the Miami Heat in the 2003 draft.
F- Steve Novak (2002-2006): The 6-10 sharp shooter holds the university’s record for career three-pointers, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage. The highlight of his days at MU came when he dropped 41 points in an upset victory against UConn in Marquette’s first Big East contest. Novak was a second round pick of the Rockets in 2006 and currently plays for the Clippers.
C- Robert Jackson (2002-2003): In a decade where effective post players were scarce for MU, Jackson made the most of his one year. The Milwaukee native returned to his hometown after spending his first three years playing for Mississippi State. He averaged 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in his lone season at Marquette and was the inside presence MU needed to get to the Final Four.
PG-Dominic James (2005-2009): A four-year starter, James put together one of the best freshman seasons of any newcomer to the Marquette program on way to winning Big East Rookie of the Year honors. While he failed to live up to expectations after his record breaking freshman campaign, James was a steadying force for four years and the school’s third all-time leading scorer. James was released by the Bucks this past training camp and is now playing professionally in Turkey.
SG-Brian Wardle (1997-2001): The now assistant coach at UW-Green Bay was the best player on a pair of pretty average teams early in the decade. Wardle was forced to be the go-to guy early on when he was clearly better suited to be a complimentary outside scorer. He ranks sixth among Marquette’s all-time leading scorers.
G/F-Wesley Matthews (2005-2009): Part of the “Three Amigos” with James and McNeal, the Madison native saved his best for last. Matthews had a break-out senior season under first-year head coach Buzz Williams, averaging 18.3 points per game (almost six points better than his previous best) and being named to the All-Big East Second Team. His unselfishness and ability to play multiple positions on the floor made him a very valuable player. A four-year starter, Matthews is eighth on MU’s all-time scoring list and the program’s leader in free throws made.
F-Lazar Hayward (2006-present): Playing out of position for most of his time at Marquette, Hayward established himself while playing alongside the “Three Amigos” and is now the leader of this year’s Golden Eagles. He continues to climb up MU’s all-time lists and was All-Big East Second Team as a sophomore. The headband-wearing Hayward has embraced whatever challenge presented to him including often times guarding the other’s team tallest player despite just standing 6’6”.
PF-Scott Merritt (2000-2004): The lengthy Merritt was known more for his finesse than physicality. He was the perfect compliment up-front to Robert Jackson during Marquette’s Final Four run due to his ability to handle the basketball and make athletic plays underneath. Merritt ended his career as the only player in MU history to record 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, 100 assists, and 100 blocked shots for his career.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: PG- Cordell Henry, F-Olouma Nnamka
Check out The Sports Bank’s other All-Decade college basketball teams: