Game day: Tar Heels to face hardworking Marquette
Coach worked his way up ranks
Daily Tar Heel Sports Editor Jonathan Jones and senior writer Louie Horvath take a look back at North Carolina men’s basketball’s road to the Sweet 16 and preview the team’s upcoming Sweet 16 game against 11th-seeded Marquette.
Marquette’s program prides itself on being a testament to the power of perseverance.
The Golden Eagles, who will face off against North Carolina in the Sweet 16, fancy themselves as a collection of players who never give up on or off the court.
There may be something to that viewpoint — the team’s coach and each of its top four scorers have spent time at junior college.
“Their plight to Marquette you can’t change,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “It’s as obscure a plight as mine was to Marquette.”
Quite a winding road led Williams to Marquette.
His odyssey has carried him to nine different schools since he started working in basketball in 1990.
He first spent four years working in the hinterlands of college basketball, finally working in Division I for the first time in 1994 with UT-Arlington.
Five schools later, he found himself in Milwaukee coaching the Golden Eagles (22-14).
“Buzz went his route, and it was a weird route, but there are other guys that did it the same,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Buzz paid his dues, he’s done a great, great job there, and I have a great relationship with him.”
The Golden Eagles, seeded No. 11 in the East region, take after their coach and the team is famous for playing hard every game.
“We’re in a great region, obviously we’re not supposed to be there, as everybody knows, but we’re going to fight to the best of our abilities and be tough until the very end,” senior Jimmy Butler said.
Much like their well-traveled coach, the players enjoy and are comfortable playing to their near-perpetual role as the underdog.
“We like being under the radar,” guard Darius Johnson-Odom said. “It motivates us as players and as coaches. When we play, we show why we were under the radar, but we shouldn’t be under the radar.”
Roy Williams thinks part of the reason for Marquette’s success could be its reliance on junior college players.
“You love the hunger that those guys have,” Roy Williams said. “With the wild culture that we have now, some of these guys are prima donna and don’t have that hunger.”
In a region with some of the most prestigious basketball programs in the nation, the mentally tough Golden Eagles do not plan to back down.
“When you’re a player, that’s what you dream about, going up against the elite teams,” sophomore forward Jae Crowder said. “I feel like in this (region) these are the elite teams. So as a player you look forward to it.”
Johnson-Odom is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 16 points per game. He leads a balanced attack that sees three players averaging in double figures.
“Over the last two years I’ve seen quite a bit (of Marquette),” Roy Williams said. “(Johnson-Odom) is one of those guys that everyone would love to get. Those late bloomers that have a chip on their shoulder because of all the guys that supposedly were better than he was.”
UNC figures to give Marquette — which has one player taller than 6-foot-9 on its roster — trouble with the length of big guys John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Buzz Williams is well aware of it.
“They’ve got really, really good long-lasting NBA players on their team,” Buzz Williams said. “They’re really long, really athletic and extremely fast.”
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