By Roy & Harv Schmidt
One big reason why Marquette University has enjoyed tremendous success on the basketball court in recent years is because of their ability to recruit the Chicago area. They did so under Tom Crean and are making every effort to do the same under new head coach Buzz Williams and his coaching staff. The latest recruiting development offers even further proof of that, as the Golden Eagles are now in the picture for both Chris Colvin and Darius Smith.
There is no question that Chicago area players have been right at the forefront of Marquette basketball since the turn of the century. During Crean's banner years at Marquette, the marquee player was Dwyane Wade, who wound up as our #2 ranked player in our final rankings from the class of 2002 in Illinois and led Marquette to the Final Four in 2004. Crean then followed that up by landing Jerel McNeal, who finished as our #1 ranked player in Illinois from the class of 2005. McNeal is currently one of the leaders for a Marquette team that is expected to be one of the chief contenders in the loaded Big East conference this season.
From the moment he was hired as the new head coach at Marquette, Buzz Williams has made it quite clear that he plans to recruit the state of Illinois, particularly the Chicago area, extremely hard and has made it one of his top recruiting priorities. The first piece of evidence can be found in how Williams chose to handle the opening weekend of practice. While most programs around the nation were hosting their versions of Midnight Madness, Williams, his coaching staff and the entire Marquette team spent the weekend in Chicago, as they practiced and worked out at the University Of Chicago. Considering the degree of emphasis that is being placed on recruiting Chicago, we believe that it was a brilliant move.
Next, we go to the players that Marquette is currently involved with recruiting-wise. As far as the class of 2009 goes, the Golden Eagles are currently among the top four schools being considered by 6'2 point guard Chris Colvin from Whitney Young. Colvin attended Marquette Madness last weekend. However, we have now learned that Marquette is also back in the picture for 6'2 guard Darius Smith from Marshall, who we believe is the best lockdown defender in the state.
When comparing Colvin and Smith, Colvin is the more natural point guard, while Smith is the better defender. Other than that, they are almost identical types of players, which is why we think it makes perfect sense that Marquette would recruit both of them. Furthermore, it shows that Williams is trying to cover all bases and is leaving no stones unturned. We say this because it appears as though there is a good chance that Colvin will wait until the spring before making his decision, something that we have hinted at all along. Such is the case when you have the number of handlers trying to influence Colvin's recruitment that he has. If that happens, then Smith is certainly an attractive option. The only problem is that Smith could very well wait until the spring as well. In addition to Marquette, we continue to hear Iowa State, Bradley, and DePaul mentioned with Smith as well, with Washington State being the latest school to get involved.
However, Marquette's emphasis on Chicago and the state of Illinois does not end with the 2009 class, as they are also involved with several players ranging from the classes of 2010 all the way through the class of 2012. In the class of 2010 they are looking hard at 6'8 Phillip Jackson from Providence-St. Mel, who we believe has the best up side of any front court player in Illinois from that class, as well as 6'1 point guard Lavonte Dority from Foreman. In the loaded 2011 class they are involved with 6'5 Sam Thompson from Whitney Young as well as several of the top point guards from Illinois in that class. And in the class of 2012 both 5'10 point guard Antonio "Bobo" Drummond from Peoria Central (our #1 ranked player in that class) and 6'0 guard Cameron Harvey from St. Joseph were in attendance for Marquette Madness.
Another key ingredient in being successful when it comes to recruiting a particular geographical region is having assistant coaches who know the area and are well-connected. Crean had them throughout his tenure at Marquette. Three of them would go on and land head coaching jobs--Tim Buckley at Ball State (now one of Crean's assistants at Indiana), Darrin Horn at Western Kentucky (now at South Carolina) and Tod Kowalczyk at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Williams undoubtedly has an assistant who fits the bill in this regard with Tony Benford. Like so many of the other assistants at Marquette before him, Benford knows Chicago extremely well, as he recruited the area hard when he was an assistant at Nebraska and also has strong connections throughout the state of Illinois. Not only that, but he also has the work ethic, enthusiasm and knowledge that could lead to him becoming a head coach at some point in the future.
When summing up the future of Marquette recruiting, we borrow a line given by a former Chicago Bears head coach when asked to assess the state of his ball club in which he said, "all the pieces are in place." The big difference is that while that coach was wrong with respect to the state of the Bears at that time, we believe that this comment will prove to be most true when assessing the degree of success that we expect Marquette to continue to have when it comes to recruiting the state of Illinois.