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Thursday, May 23, 2013
A new league but the same old Buzz

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

Marquette
Despite a new home, Buzz Williams asks, "Why should Marquette change?"

The more things change, the more Buzz Williams has vowed to stay the same.

Williams' Marquette program has spent the past three seasons caught in the fury that is conference expansion, ultimately landing -- or is it expanding? Or maybe it's staying? -- in the new version of the old Big East.

Somewhat of a Midwest outcast in the East Coast-hugging conference, the Golden Eagles now have more geographical neighbors thanks to the additions of Creighton, Butler and Xavier.

All of which could mean something significant or nothing for Marquette. Williams isn't quite sure which.

"I don't know,'' he said. "What will be two years from now? Three years from now? I feel like I've been answering the same questions since media day last year -- what's it going to be like? What's it going to turn into? I don't know all those answers. I just know I have to do my job. I'm not saying they aren't topics of conversation, but it can't consume you."

If that sounds risky, foolish or even downright ostrich-like, well, quibble with Williams' approach at your own risk. His stoic commitment to minding his own business has served Marquette quite nicely. In five seasons in Milwaukee, Williams has led the Golden Eagles to three consecutive Sweet 16 berths -- including an appearance in the Elite Eight this spring.

Currently three of his former players are in the NBA -- Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Wesley Matthews -- and none of them were really on the league's radar when they came to college.

The truth is, Williams might just be onto something. While the rest of the sports world dithers and frets over who is going to what league and what it all means, Williams has focused his energies into what his team and his program will be.

It's the old coaching cliché born anew, but born with a purpose as opposed to just a quote filler: Control what you can control.

Williams can control his team, who he recruits, how the Golden Eagles play.

Like most coaches, he has worked hardest at building an identity, to giving his team a brand and style of play that is recognizable beyond its conference boundaries. He bristles at the notion that the brand is merely "the Golden Eagles play hard." Yes, they do, but so, he presumes, does everyone else.

"I think sometimes that people are missing the whole point," Williams said. "I guess that's where I get an edge."

Buzz Williams
Buzz Williams has created a unique culture at Marquette.

In Williams' estimation, saying Marquette is a blue-collar, hard-working team is too simplistic and insinuates that somehow the Golden Eagles are overachieving. The way he sees it, Marquette is succeeding because of something far more difficult to build than a win-loss column.

"Culture is everything," Williams said. "It's not necessarily an X and an O thing. It's the people, what the people do. The best and real leadership is recursive. When what you say is echoed throughout, whether it be a manager or a guy off the bench or a starter, that's when it's working. I think we're beginning to see that with our program."

Having a culture, an understanding of what is expected, Williams believes has helped -- and will continue to help -- the Golden Eagles through conference moves.

Of course, there is little doubt that this move is both the easiest and the best for Marquette, just as it is for its like-minded Catholic university brethren. University president Father Scott Pilarz has been an outspoken proponent of the move and has since called the reborn Big East the "best basketball conference in the country."

That remains to be seen -- the ACC might, in fact, beg loudly to differ -- but remaining together, keeping the Big East branding and bolstering the league with three basketball-centric schools certainly puts Marquette on solid footing.

All of which is important in the big picture of promoting stability, taking care of the university pocketbooks and keeping basketball at the forefront.

But in the day-to-day world, what does it mean? That's the part Williams can't quite wrap his arms around. He's prepping for July recruiting now, getting organized for summer individual workouts and nothing really seems different.

"That's probably why I haven't been very good at answering all these questions about the league,'' he said. "I just hope we win one more game. I'm trying to figure out how do we win one more game? Which player can we sign that fits us, that understands our culture and how we go about things? That's what I'm worried about."