Buzz Williams attended a junior college. He barged his way into coaching there and earned his nickname in the process. Most telling, the top four scorers on the first of Williams' Sweet 16 teams at Marquette were junior-college transfers.
So it is no surprise that the man charged with reviving Virginia Tech basketball has landed a JUCO player in his initial Hokies recruiting class.
As first reported by CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein on Monday, Shane Henry of Georgia Perimeter College is Virginia Tech-bound. A 6-foot-6 forward, he chose the Hokies over Texas Tech, the Roanoke Times' Mark Berman reported.
Henry is Tech basketball's first junior-college recruit since Justin Holt in 2003. Then-coach Seth Greenberg thought Holt, the 2001 state high school player of the year in Washington, a potential pro but dismissed him from the program for disciplinary reasons before Holt ever played a game.
Which makes a convenient segue to the reputation issue.
As we have witnessed repeatedly, NCAA governance is an oxymoron, but that hasn't stopped many from branding junior-college sports, and the athletes who play them, as outlaws. Williams and his players' success at Marquette, on the court and in the classroom, demonstrate how shallow that label is.
Are junior colleges convenient destinations for athletes whose high school grades do not meet NCAA initial-eligibility standards? Sure. Are some JUCOs ethically challenged? You bet.
But spare us the blanket indictment, especially when the NCAA's four-year institutions face a laundry list of similar problems.
Williams attended Navarro College, a two-year school in his native Texas, just south of Dallas. His incessant buzzing around the basketball office prompted his nickname and landed him a job as a student assistant.
Even when Williams left Navarro — he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Oklahoma City University and Texas A&M-Kingsville, respectively — he did not forget his roots.
Taking over at Marquette in 2008 when head coach Tom Crean departed for Indiana, Williams mined junior colleges to enhance an already thriving program. His 2010-11 Golden Eagles reached the East Regional semifinals, losing to North Carolina, and their top four scorers — Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Dwight Buycks — were JUCO transfers.
Junior-college players bring age and, hopefully, physical and emotional maturity to major college programs. The downside is, their eligibility has been curtailed, often, as with Henry at Virginia Tech, to two years.
Williams appears to have chosen JUCOs wisely at Marquette. During his six seasons there, the program's average Academic Progress Rate, an NCAA metric that combines retention and graduation, was 966.5, far better than the 930 minimum for postseason eligibility and above the current national men's basketball average of 957.
Williams' first Golden Eagles' recruit, Butler is an inspiring story. Abandoned by his single mother as a teen, he found his way to Tyler (Texas) Junior College and then to Marquette, where he not only graduated but also became a first-round draft selection of the Chicago Bulls, for whom he started this season.
Junior-college transfers are far from the norm in the ACC, but there have been several notables.
Steve Francis was first-team all-conference in 1999, his only season at Maryland, after which he was the second pick of the NBA draft. Bernard James helped Florida State win the 2012 ACC championship and was a second-round draft choice. Devin Smith was Virginia's leading scorer in 2005.
And the all-timer was Bob McAdoo, who led North Carolina to the 1972 Final Four, was the NBA's Most Valuable Player three years later and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 — he's presently a Miami Heat assistant coach.
Williams is unlikely to sign a future Hall of Famer from the JUCO ranks, but here's guessing he'll be trying.
"I'm a … junior-college guy," he told the Marquette-centric website Painttouches.com last year. "So you look at me different because I'm the coach, but you're going to talk about (JUCO transfers)? I'm not good with that.
"I am an ass when it comes to that sort of stuff. I'm going to protect my people, no matter what you think of them."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun