Williams Has Success at Marquette Through Recruitment of JUCO Athletes
Brent "Buzz" Williams arrived at Navarro College in 1990 as a kid with a passion for basketball and a dream. He wanted to get into coaching, so he asked head coach Lewis Orr if he could get involved.
Orr gave him a student assistant job at the junior college, and Williams went back to the gym to get started that afternoon. He was sitting in the stands observing when Orr gave him his first assignment: sweeping the floors.
"So he came down and swept the floor," Orr said. "And I looked at it and said, ‘Well, you gotta sweep it again. It's not clean yet, so sweep the corners. Make sure you get all of those.'"
Williams never did anything halfway again. He poured his heart and soul into everything. He was determined to succeed. So determined that Orr began calling him "Buzz" for his relentless energy. Orr said he was always "buzzing around like a bee."
The nickname born in that junior college gym in Corsicana, Texas, became his identity. It's an identity he has embraced. Buzz Williams hasn't forgotten where he started.
The Marquette head coach is known for recruiting junior college players to his program. The Golden Eagles have five junior college transfers on the roster this season, including the team's top four scorers. Marquette (13-8, 4-4 Big East) will be depending on them again in its matchup with Syracuse (18-3, 5-3) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Milwaukee.
Williams understands his players' journey from obscurity to Division I basketball because he experienced it firsthand.
"I'm a former junior college manager," Williams said. "So I'm proud of the guys that are in our program, regardless of how they got here."
When Williams was hired in 2008, he recruited junior college players out of necessity. Marquette graduated four seniors and had three open scholarships, forcing Williams to fill seven roster spots.
Williams knew he had to bring in some experienced players to keep Marquette competitive in the Big East. And as the new guy in the Big East, he had to be creative.
"I just thought that with seven scholarships open, we couldn't sign seven high school players," Williams said. "I just think that in this league, if you have a team that's that young, you're just not giving those guys a chance to win."
The head coach returned to familiar ground to get that experience. With just eight days separating the spring signing period and the day he was hired, Williams used his JUCO connections to land his first recruit: Jimmy Butler.
Butler's best friend and teammate at Tyler Junior College in Texas, Joe Fulce had already committed to Marquette the previous fall. Fulce originally signed with Williams when he was an assistant at Texas A&M. During a year at military school, Fulce committed to New Orleans because Williams took the head job there.
When Williams joined the Marquette coaching staff as an assistant in 2007, Fulce spent a year at Tyler before finally uniting with Williams at Marquette. In the meantime, Williams' assistant coach at New Orleans, Scott Monarch, went with Fulce to Tyler to join that staff as an assistant.
Monarch was impressed with Butler, an unknown coming out of high school, all season. By April, Butler was being heavily recruited by Division I programs Kentucky, Iowa State and Mississippi State. Monarch, who joined Williams' Marquette staff that spring, convinced the head coach to offer Butler a scholarship.
With his teammate and coach set to make the transition to Milwaukee, the decision was easy for Butler, even though he never visited Marquette. He trusted Monarch and the Marquette staff.
Before Tyler, Monarch had spent 12 seasons coaching in the junior college ranks. He had already helped many players make the jump from junior college to Division I during his career. He said he feels a connection with JUCO players because of his experience at that level.
That connection and experience helped him win Butler's trust. Monarch said trust is the key to coaching and recruiting.
"The bottom line is, when it's all said and done," Monarch said, "you gotta put your trust to the right person."
And no program in the Big East has gained the trust of JUCO players better than Marquette. Williams brought in Dwight Buycks from Indian Hills Community College, Darius Johnson-Odom from Hutchinson Community College in his first official recruiting class and Jae Crowder from Howard College in the following one.
Butler, Buycks, Johnson-Odom and Crowder all average double figures in scoring this season. All four have started the last 11 games for Marquette.
Monarch said Marquette takes a different approach recruiting the JUCO level. While most schools view junior college players as a stopgap, Marquette relies on them to make a difference.
"A lot of your bigger schools don't really recruit junior college kids to play," Monarch said. "Where we recruit them to play. We're counting on them to play, so it's a little bit different atmosphere."
Tyler head coach Mike Marquis said seeing JUCO transfers have so much success at Marquette is crucial to the recruiting process. That success has earned Marquette respect from junior colleges.
Marquette also keeps in constant contact with junior colleges throughout the year.
"It's not surprising to get a call from them," Marquis said. "They've built a lot of friendships in junior colleges across the country, and that's really, really helped them."
Williams' junior college roots have helped the program, too. Monarch said the junior college coaching community is a tight-knit group. It's a group he and Williams are still very much a part of today.
Marquis talks with Monarch weekly. He said he'll receive a call or text message from Williams occasionally, despite his demanding schedule.
"They do a good job of making you feel like part of their family," Marquis said.
In many ways, junior college coaches and players are a family. Williams joined the family that day sweeping floors more than 20 years ago. For Williams, it's a family that started with Orr.
Williams still learns from his mentor. After Orr retired from coaching in 2008, Williams hired him as a consultant. Currently in his third year helping Williams, Orr splits his time living between Texas and Wisconsin.
In 37 years as a junior college head coach, Orr touched many lives. Some players needed another year to get better on the court, but others also needed help in the classroom.
Though he wasn't a player, Williams needed to improve his study habits, too. Before he was Buzz, he was just a kid looking for a chance. Now he is giving junior college players the same chance Orr gave him.
"You try to get them to see that big picture, to dream bigger dreams," Orr said. "If they do that, they can be a nobody one day and a somebody the next."
Via the Daily Orange