During Big East media day last Wednesday, Marquette coach Buzz Williams was asked about the latest junior college transfer to join his squad. Williams responded that Jameel McKay, the 6’8″ forward, was, “… a runner, jumper [who is] still trying to figure out who he is, and where he is, and what he needs to do.” Reading between the lines of the quote, it is hard to know whether the coach was surprised (or expected) McKay’s announcement the next day, via Twitter, that he planned to transfer from the Big East school.
When I published an article on the most intriguing Big East ‘freshmen’ for Big Apple Buckets, McKay was included because I thought that while the lean big would not be an offensive force, he could become a pivotal presence on the defensive glass. For the past several seasons, including last year’s team, Marquette has underwhelmed when tasked with keeping opponents from hauling in their own misses. Teams grabbed more than 34% of their missed shots in 2013, which translated to easier second offensive possessions (teams converted 45.1% of their twos). Despite the skill displayed on the offensive boards — the team led the Big East in offensive rebound percentage–– it has yet to carry over after defending the bucket for 19 or so seconds.
Contributing to this deficiency is that Williams relies on everybody to crash the glass, not just his bigs. Williams has long stocked his team with “switchables”, players who can slide into several different spots on the floor and are incapable of being defined as a strict positional player. Vander Blue was the only Golden Eagles who used more than 40% of the team’s minutes last season and didn’t have a defensive rebounding percentage greater than 10%. There are two Golden Eagles who don’t vacillate — Davante Gardner and Chris Otule are strictly 5s — but since Williams wants the rebounding responsibility shared amongst each player on the floor, neither Gardner nor Otule have impressive defensive rebounding percentages. They also don’t see the court that often — Gardner only uses a little more than 50% of Marquette’s available minutes — so while Williams will substitute the two bigs for each other, there are often times when the tallest player on the floor last season was Jamil Wilson (who is 6’7″).
Sans McKay, it is likely Marquette will continue to give up a disproportionate amount of defensive boards. McKay was perfectly suited to shine as a rebounding vacuum. His offensive game is too raw to be a big who deserves to be a paint touch each possession, but his speed, athleticism, and length would have earned McKay minutes, just by being a player who could limit opponents to one possession by just skying for rebounds. If McKay had remained at Marquette, his defensive rebound percentage would likely have been one of the league’s best. His speed would have also helped protect the paint, and the combination of his second leap and length would have caused havoc for teams attempting shots close to the bucket.
What is interesting is when Gardner, Otule, and Wilson all exhaust their eligibility after this year. The remaining roster, along with the 2014 recruiting class, tops out at 6’7″ and Williams and his coaching will now have to reevaluate their recruiting targets, a move that would have been unnecessary before last Thursday. There are no available scholarships for the 2014-15 season, and while there is always the possibility a player could transfer — Juan Anderson decided best to change locales this summer before coming back to the school — it is likely Williams will find at least one frontcourt player for MU’s frontcourt next year.