|James back, but No. 11 Marquette must find man in the middle|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 05 November 2007 16:18|
Despite helping lead Marquette to 44 wins in his first two seasons, he hasn't had much to brag about so far.
James, a junior who averaged 14.9 points per game last season, was the biggest recruit of a highly touted class two seasons ago that included fellow guards Wesley Matthews (12.6 ppg) and Jerel McNeal (14.7 ppg).
But that core group has just one postseason win since they've been on campus, none in the NCAA tournament.
``I felt most comfortable with my future back at Marquette because that was the only place I knew I was going to be secure,'' said James, who declared for the NBA draft but withdrew his name after a lackluster performance at the pre-draft workouts.
He added: ``I felt like winning was going to take care of everything. As far as my dreams and things like that, I looked at the roster coming back and I knew this was a team I could come back and win and take deep in the tournament.''
Marquette is ranked 11th in the preseason poll, but Coach Tom Crean said the group that led the Golden Eagles to a 24-10 mark last season - the best since a Final Four berth in 2003 - needs to be more mature.
``I don't want to take anything away from what this group as a relatively young group has done, but they're not young anymore and they need to play that way,'' said Crean, who is beginning his ninth season. ``A leader is not just somebody that takes a charge in practice, a leader is somebody that leads the way in the classroom, he leads the way off the court, he leads the way in what's said in the locker room, and that's where your leadership is judged.''
James is the focal point of a team that returns all five starters and its top seven scorers, but still lacks depth among its big men. As the point guard who shot a dismal 27 percent from 3-point range and 65 percent from the free-throw line, James will have to improve his play.
``If I decided to leave last year, I'd have been pretty upset and would've regretted it because that's not the legacy I want to leave here at Marquette,'' James said.
Marquette has built its team to play a fast-paced game in the rough and tumble Big East. They've even taken up tae kwon do to try to toughen up and get quicker.
``That's what we want to live by, speed,'' Matthews said. ``We've been pushing it since we set foot on this campus. Now, it's just getting a little bit faster with more athletes.''
The Golden Eagles were dealt a swift blow on Friday when they announced that freshman Trevor Mbakwe, a 6-foot-7 forward, would miss the season and redshirt because of a ligament sprain in his left knee.
Senior Ousmane Barro is considered the biggest frontcourt force at 6-10, but he was plagued with foul trouble last season and struggled toward the end of the year.
Marquette also has 6-9 senior forward Dan Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald likes to square up and is more dangerous from beyond the arc as Steve Novak was two seasons ago.
Senior Lawrence Blackledge and junior Dwight Burke are both 6-7, but neither saw significant playing time last year.
``I just don't think we played at the end of the year with a great physical sense,'' Crean said. ``We weren't wimpy, I mean, it wasn't that we weren't tough, we just weren't as physical as we needed to be.''
James is certainly listening to his coach, and says he's got a new goal - winning at least two games in the NCAA tournament.
``I felt like if we had done it (last year), people would have said we'd overachieved, but this year, I feel like it's almost expected, not everybody from the outside, but from each other,'' James said. ``I really believe that if this team doesn't make to a Sweet Sixteen or a Final Four, it's a failure.''