One-on-one with Buzz Williams
He says he’s not a computer guy, but a few weeks ago, Marquette coach Buzz Williams logged onto his laptop and did a search for “Magic Pills.”
“Nothing popped up,” he said.
Williams relayed the news to his players – and then reminded them that the only way to cure their midseason misfortunes was through perseverance and effort. The Golden Eagles responded Saturday with a 70-68 win at Connecticut that Williams hopes will jump-start what, at times, has been a frustrating season.
Marquette is 13-8 overall and 4-5 in the Big East conference – but it could easily be 18-3 or even 19-2. All eight of Marquette’s losses have been by single digits, and five of them have been by either one or two points.
Somehow, though, Marquette hasn’t let the gut-wrenching setbacks hurt its confidence. With the hardest part of their Big East schedule behind them, the Golden Eagles still stand a chance of earning an NCAA tournament berth – especially considering they tout wins against Connecticut, Georgetown, Michigan and Xavier.
The fact that Marquette is so competitive is even more remarkable considering the Golden Eagles lost standouts Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal from last year’s team.
Williams – a former assistant under Tom Crean who is in his second season as Marquette’s head coach – talked with Yahoo! Sports on Sunday evening.
Q: You’ve lost five Big East games by a total of 11 points. So many teams would go in the tank after close losses like that. Why hasn’t that happened to your team?
A: I think it goes back to character. Maybe if I had been coaching longer than I have, or maybe if I was smarter, I’d have a different answer. But I think life is pretty simple. Sometimes we make it more complicated than it is. Any time you go through life and you go through a disappointment, it is hard to bounce back. The only way you can bounce back is if you believe in what you’re doing and you believe in the people you’re doing it with. The moral of the story is that it’s the character of your players.
Q: How much time have you had to spend talking to your players to keep their spirits up?
A: I probably should, but I’m not a big believer in Kumbaya meetings. I think you have Kumbaya meetings when you’re getting your tails whipped. I just don’t believe in that. The only thing you can do to fight back is to work. Make sure that you’re accountable in your work and efficient in your work. Make sure the things you’re working on are things you can utilize to not get your tails kicked. That’s all I know.
Q: I know you’re not the type of guy to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. But after three or four of those close losses, you must’ve felt snake-bitten.
A: They were hard to absorb. We beat Xavier and Michigan at Disney World when no one thought we would. Then we played Florida State and, at the first media timeout of the second half, we were up by 15. We ended up getting beat by one on a last-second shot. Then you fast forward to Dec. 29, when we’re playing at West Virginia in our first league game. Da’Sean Butler fake spins at the three-point and hits a fadeaway three to beat us by one. Then [Villanova’s] Scottie Reynolds splits a trap on a ball screen and dribbles the ball behind his legs and shoots and gets fouled. He makes a free throw and they beat us by two. We went up to Syracuse and lost by five and the radio guy said, ‘What do you do when it’s such a blowout?’ We were used to playing in one or two-point games.
Q: Any way to pinpoint why that was happening?
A: I need to be a better coach. That’s probably what I thought most of the time when we were losing by one or two possessions. Our players put us in a position to have a chance to win those games. We have become more efficient in what we do. Our bond has continued to grow stronger. Some of the heartbreak that we’ve been through already … some teams would disband. I think our team has molded together even closer.
Q: Has there been one player who’s done a particularly good job of keeping the team together?
A: When you’re on the Titanic and you’re headed wherever you’re going, everybody has to pull his own weight. That’s the way we have to operate around here. I’m not any more important than our video coordinator, and Lazar Hayward isn’t any more important than anyone on our team. That’s one thing that we say all the time to one another. You’ve got to pull your own weight. And when you see one of your teammates struggling, you’ve got to pull his weight. Our seniors have done a phenomenal job of leading. They’re more vocal than some of the younger players. But as long as guys have both feet in the water and as long as they’re pushing the right way, I don’t know that you need captains.
Q: How have you been able to combat your lack of depth down low?
A: It’s hard because as soon as the ball is tipped we’re playing from behind. We’ve played seven guys, for the most part, throughout the year. We are small. I think everyone in the country knows that. We lost our 6-foot-10 kid to a broken foot. I think you have to combat it in myriad ways. The responsibility falls to everyone on the floor. As soon as we make a basket we have to have great ball pressure for as long as we can, as much as we can, so by the time they get it down the court, and our size deficiency becomes so glaring, we’ve done a great job of playing our man below the catch. Because let’s face it, we’re really small. We’re starting Mo Acker, who is 5-8 when he puts his in-soles in his shoes. David Cubillan is 5-11 when he’s grown his hair out for a couple of weeks. We’re the smallest team in the Big East by position. It’s not just inside where we’re small. We’re small everywhere. We have to play every person before the catch, we have to jump to every pass, we have to stay high in the floor, because as soon as we play on the same boards as the guys we’re guarding, we’re in trouble, because we’re too small to overcome that.
Q: When you talk to this team about your long-term potential and your goals, what do you tell them? I’m looking at your schedule and it seems as if you’ve still got a chance to do a lot of great things.
A: I wish I was smarter and could judge and forecast a little bit more than I can, but we don’t ever talk about anything in the future. We have a routine two nights before a game, one night before a game and the day of the game. We never alter those routines relative to our opponent. I know we play DePaul on Wednesday and then Providence, but after that I couldn’t tell you. I don’t carry around a schedule in my pocket. I don’t want to know our schedule. I only want to be consumed with today.
Q: Rumor has it that you’re big into statistics.
A: I’m too big into numbers and our guys know that. I try not to reflect that on them because I don’t want to overwhelm them.
Q: I read in an article recently that you said your infatuation with numbers was related to your OCD. Were you joking, or do you really have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
A: If I was tested for it I probably would, but I shouldn’t have said that, because some people have a genuine problem with it. But I definitely have some characteristics of it, where one thing leads to another and then another. I don’t want to take that out on anyone else. My wife has to deal with it some and Barb, my assistant, endures a lot of it. But I don’t want to inflict it on my players, because I want them to play with a free mind.
Q: What kind of things do your assistant and wife have to endure?
A: For every day I’ve been at Marquette, I have a diary. There are four pages for each day. One is a practice itinerary, one is a post-practice notes, a breakdown of offense and defensive notes, each assistant has two lines of things I need to tell them I think they need to work on. The back page, half of it is nothing but lines, the other half is court diagrams. Anytime we meet in the film room, our guys know that we’re going to pray. Then they’re going to take the diaries that I put together for them, and the first three minutes, nobody says a word, and we write in our diary. It’s my way of getting out whatever it is I need to get out so I can concentrate on what we’re about to do. It’s something that’s really important to me.
Q: I know you’re a Texas native who graduated from Van Alstyne High School. How have you liked living in Wisconsin? Is it a culture shock?
A: We have four children under the age of 7. On Sunday I stay home most of the day. Then, around 5:30, I leave and go to work. Whether it’s going to church or going to IHOP, all the things we do on Sunday, my children look forward to it and so does my wife. Sometimes I’ll try to take a nap with the kids and be a normal human being. The other day my wife said, ‘I just love our life.’ It’s amazing how God has blessed us way more than we deserve. Not just professionally, but personally. We’ve been married almost 10 years.
I didn’t even know God created this much snow. I’d seen pictures on TV but I didn’t realize it could really get like this. Seriously, though, it was all part of a perfect plan. The values of this institution represent who I am as a person. The value of that is worth way more than any amount of money. What this institution was built on and what they believe are the core things that they want each student to experience here are the same things I believe in my heart to be right. It’s very rare in any industry to find a perfect match, but I believe I have. I love the people. I love the support of our program. We’ve been in the top 10 in attendance the last two years. There’s no football here. The academic setup here is outstanding. The value of a degree here is approaching that of an Ivy League institution. It’s the perfect place for me. I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me.
Q: You spent one season as an assistant to Tom Crean before he left Marquette for Indiana. Do you still keep in touch with him?
A: We share texts and voicemails. We don’t talk every day or anything like that. I know he’s doing an outstanding job down there. I’m happy for any success that they have. He’s part of the reason why this program is in the condition it is in. I never try to take credit for how this program got to this point, because I didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s all about what Coach Crean had done the previous nine years, not to mention what all the coaches before him had done. I just want to make sure I’m accountable for what happens beyond this point.
Q: If you weren’t coaching basketball or recruiting or watching film, what would you do in your free time?
A: I’d be with my wife and my children. But if I had to name a hobby, I’d say clothes. I really like looking at different shirts and ties and suits and gear. But as far as something that would actually take time, I like to work and be with my family. And I try to run every day. Other than that, I’m a simpleton.
Q: How far do you run?
A: We have boot camp every year that starts 15 days before the start of official practice. This year my commitment to my team was that from the day we started boot camp to the day of our first game, I would run the distance from the Al McGuire Center, which is our practice facility, to the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the Final Four is. That’s 245 miles. I did it on the treadmill, and they were making fun of me the whole way. But it was my way of showing them that I was 1 percent tougher than they are.
And then from Christmas Day to Easter Day – from the day Jesus was born to the day he was resurrected … that’s 100 days. I committed to running five miles a day for those 100 days. So that’s 500 miles. I’m on track for the most part. I’ve missed five days, so I’m 25 miles behind. There were days I’m running 16, 28 or 20 miles not to get ahead, but to catch up. I’d do it in sessions. I’d run three or four miles and then work for a few hours and then run three or four more, just to try to catch up.
Q: Do you eat pretty well? Or are there foods up in Wisconsin that you can’t resist?
A: I used to drink a gallon of sweet tea a day. Then a friend of mine told me about the cleanse diet. It’s organic lemon juice, organic syrup and organic cayenne pepper with distilled water, all mixed together. When our guys were in finals, I told them, ‘I know you guys are going to be mashed down this week. So this week I’m going to be mashed down, too. I’m not going to eat. I’m going to go on this cleanse.’ I did it for 10 days. Now I only drink sweet tea when I’m leaving the house [one glass] and when I get home [one glass]. That’s helped me, because I was constantly on a sugar high. I don’t eat too much during the day. When I come to the office, I never leave. So unless someone brings in some food, I usually just have a bagel or a bowl of cereal.