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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / November 21.
  • With the Final Four In Sight, Buzz Williams Heads Towards Elite Company

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    By JOSH NEWMAN
    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    Buzz WilliamsWASHINGTON, D.C.Buzz Williams is on the brink of joining some elite company.

    The 40-year old Greenville, Tex., native is one win away from joining some legends of the profession who have all been to a Final Four.

    A mere 26 hours before he has to go through one of those legends of his profession in Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, Williams knows that he and his Texas-sized shtick shouldn’t be here, mentioned with names like Boeheim, Rick Pitino, John Thompson Jr. and Jim Calhoun.

    All four have been to at least one Final Four, all four have won a national title. Williams is one game from the former and three games from the latter, yet is self-aware to the point that be believes his name and those names do not mix.

    “My name doesn’t belong up there,” Williams said. “I don’t view myself in that regard. I don’t have the wins or the introspective of who I am. That’s not why I do this. Obviously, I’m humble to be in this position, but I’m not doing it for the outcome, I’m doing it for the lives that are changed because of the experience.”

    Williams is correct. At 136-70 in six seasons as a head coach, he doesn’t have the wins or the experience to be in the same category as those four heavyweight coaches, but a spot in the Final Four will propel him into a group that most coaches can only dream of.

    Better still, even if Williams doesn’t belong with those names, he has taken Marquette to a place that only one other Golden Eagles team, the Dwyane Wade-led squad in 2003, has been since the national championship season of 1977. One game away from a Final Four.

    “Maybe at some point in my career, maybe I’ll think like that, but I struggle with enjoying and being absorbed in the moment in that regard,” Williams said. “I never look at things that way and only because if you look at my path to this point, there’s no possible way you could say that I would have gotten to this point, much less get to the point that you’re talking about.”

    It seemed far-fetched less than a decade ago that Williams would ascend to this point. After one unremarkable year as the head coach at the University of New Orleans, he took an assistant position under Tom Crean at Marquette for the 2007-08 season. Crean left for Indiana after that season and Williams, despite that unsightly 14-17 mark at UNO a year earlier, was named Crean’s successor.

    Since then, it’s been 20-win seasons, perennial contention in the Big East, Sweet 16 appearances and now, a spot in the Elite Eight.

    The Golden Eagles have advanced to the Sweet 16 each of the last three seasons, but is just now getting over the hump and into the Elite Eight thanks to a 71-61 win over No. 2 and ACC champion Miami on Friday evening. His teams have won 14 games each of the past two seasons in the always-rugged Big East, whose regular season title the Golden Eagles captured for the first time this season.

    It’s also important to note Williams is making this happen with players that, while certainly capable and Big East-caliber, were not as highly-regarded as others coming out of high school. Williams boasts what appears to be zero NBA prospects at the moment and zero High School All-Americans.

    “Well, he’s a tremendous basketball coach, he’s done a tremendous job,” Boeheim said. “They have a very good team.  You’re talking about ‑‑ I just look at the players on the team, I don’t look at the hype.  They have very good players.  They’re very good defensively.  They can score inside, they can score outside.  They handle the ball, they don’t make mistakes.  They’re a tremendous defensive team.”

    “That’s what you look at as a coach, you don’t look at how many High School All‑Americans they had, whatever, half of the High School All‑Americans aren’t any good,” Boeheim continued. “People don’t realize that, but half of those never play well in college, let alone past that.  So that’s nonsense, it’s how good are their players.  Their players are very good and he’s done a tremendous job with those players.”

    And with one more win, he’ll join some elite company.

    Photo: Associated Press 

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