Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Feeling Blue...

With college basketball opening this past weekend, it’s probably time to dust off the old keyboard and crank out a few words from time to time again. I had planned on kicking off the season by documenting my trip to Duke’s “Countdown to Craziness” event this past weekend, but it seems that more interesting things were going on back here in Wisconsin while I was away. So I’ll deal with the Durham trip later this week. For now, I’ll chime in with my brief thoughts on Vander Blue’s commitment to Marquette.

As a guy who’s primarily a fan of Wisconsin, Vander Blue heading to Marquette is definitely disappointing. As he proved in the WIAA tournament last season, he’s clearly a top-notch talent, and has a “wow” factor that’s lacking with most of Wisconsin’s current guards. Losing a player of Blue’s ability, particularly when he had been committed to the Badgers just a few months ago, definitely stings. And it stings a bit more that the school he ultimately decided to attend is Wisconsin’s biggest rival. There’s simply not much that’s good about this situation if you’re a Wisconsin fan.

All that said, when I got home from North Carolina yesterday and read the newspaper report about Blue’s commitment to Marquette, I wasn’t as upset as I expected to be. While there’s no doubt I’d have rather heard that Blue was planning on wearing Badger red for the next four years, I actually respect his decision in a lot of ways. I have the sense that Blue really does have a great desire to play for Marquette. Given the pressures on him from the community to do otherwise, it couldn’t have been an easy thing for him to make that choice. But ultimately, Blue should go where he most wants to be, even if that means some initial turbulence.

The reasoning behind my belief that Blue is making the right choice is based primarily on two things: the circumstances of his initial commitment to Wisconsin, and an unsubstantiated rumor that I heard a few weeks ago. As to his original commitment, a few months back when Blue announced that he was re-opening his recruitment, my thoughts turned back to when he first announced his intentions to play for Wisconsin. While Blue was dominant in the high school championships last year and cemented himself as one of the top recruits in the country, that’s not the guy that he was when he decided to attend Wisconsin as a sophomore. Back when I first read of his verbal commitment, I mainly remembered seeing him at the state tournament because he had a cool name. Hearing that he was committing to Wisconsin was, at best, mildly exciting. I probably had the same reaction when I saw that Tim Jarmusz had committed with the Badgers (which is to say that I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself “I guess that guy seems okay.”). Like almost everyone else, I didn’t know what was about to come in his basketball career.

It’s tough to blame the sophomore Blue, a solid player, but not a guy who’d be getting looks from UCLA, for quickly accepting a scholarship offer from his hometown school’s team, which was just one year removed from being ranked #1 in the country (albeit for a ridiculously brief time). Nor can one blame the senior Blue for wanting to reexamine things when his talent became impossible to miss and his college options had grown exponentially. What looks like the right option to you when you’re 16 years old is often not so right when you turn 18. This is particularly true in Blue’s case, where his set of options changed so drastically within just one year.

While Blue said all of the right things about Wisconsin after he re-opened his recruitment, I’d been preparing myself for him to go elsewhere ever since that day. It’s pretty rare that a player backs out of his recruitment and then ultimately decides to recommit to the same school. There was some hope for the Badgers, as it is also pretty rare for a player re-opening his recruitment to say as many positive things as Blue did about the school that he was formerly committed to. I do get the sense that Blue is telling the truth when he says that he was still very much thinking about attending Wisconsin.

What ultimately makes me feel okay about how this whole situation has shaken out, though, is a rumor that I heard a couple weeks ago from my friend Dez (who you may recall, I share Marquette tickets with). Dez mentioned to me that a co-worker of his with some Marquette connections was hearing that Vander Blue wanted to be a Golden Eagle and was constantly in contact with members of the Marquette team, most of whom he’s formed a bond with. The co-worker was also hearing, though, that Blue’s mother much preferred that he attend Wisconsin.

Neither Dez nor I have any idea whether this truly was the situation with Vander Blue and his mother. After all, it was nothing more than a rumor. But given the comments from Blue following his commitment to Marquette about how tight he is with the Golden Eagle players (particularly his old high school teammate Jeronne Maymon) it’s definitely a theory that makes sense. And if it is the case that Blue clearly wanted to go one place and his mother wanted him to go elsewhere, I’m glad that Blue is going where he wants to be. I’d rather Blue go where he wants to be and be happy, rather than going where he thinks he should go. Both Blue and Wisconsin are a lot better off with him cutting things off now, rather than him accepting two years from now that he’s rather be elsewhere.

So while I’m bummed that I won’t be getting to see what looked to be an important player suiting up for Wisconsin in the coming years, I’m glad to see that Vander Blue seems to have thought out his decision. And as a nice consolation, I’ll still get to watch Blue (and cheer for him, save for one game each year) as part of what’s shaping up to be a ridiculously talented Marquette backcourt in the coming years. I’ll undoubtedly spend the next four years having my Marquette friends throw jabs at me every time Blue has a good game, but if that’s the worst thing to come out of this whole saga, I think I’ll live.

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