James: Marquette Can Win Without Me
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Dominic James winced as he faced the abrupt end to his Marquette career, trying to keep his pent-up emotions from pouring out in public.
After spending so much time forging a reputation for playing under control -- especially this season, where he sacrificed his own scoring for the sake of the team -- James wasn't about to blow his composure now.
Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since he broke a bone in his foot during the opening minutes of Marquette's loss to Connecticut last week, the senior spoke with optimism and maturity. But he couldn't help choking up when asked about his teammates.
"I couldn't ask for a better group of guys. It's hard," James said, taking a long pause. "It's hard just discussing ... that's my family. Playing on the court with all my teammates, but obviously guys like Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews and coach Buzz on the sideline, you couldn't ask for anything better. The support has been unbelievable."
But just as quickly as James seemed near tears, he snapped back into optimistic talk about his teammates' chances of marching deep into March without him.
After losses to Connecticut and Louisville, the Golden Eagles have slipped to 13th in the rankings and must travel to No. 3 Pittsburgh on Wednesday. But James says the season isn't lost.
"If they get a ring, I get a ring," James said, with a laugh. "They've got to keep it moving -- that's what I'm saying. My season's not over with. We play Pitt on Wednesday. So I'm going to be right there with those guys, they're going to carry me on the court with them. That's why I hate when people say, 'Your career's over, your season's over with.' No, it's not. Marquette's still playing Wednesday. And we've got some business that we've got to take care of."
And while James insists he isn't spending much time worrying about his future, he isn't giving up on his plans to play professionally.
James broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, and had surgery to implant a pin that will help guide the bone to heal itself. James is expected to make a full recovery -- but his basketball future was in doubt even before the injury, given the difficulty of any guard who stands less than six feet tall making it in the NBA.
Still, he's going to try.
"I mean, that's always been my dream," James said. "That's always been my aspiration. But just like I said, my dreams haven't changed. My goals haven't changed at all. I'm just worried about today."
For now, James said his faith is too strong to sit around feeling sorry for himself.
And while Marquette coach Buzz Williams concedes that the Golden Eagles will have to make major changes on defense without James -- and their tournament seeding is likely to suffer -- he has sharp words for any player who shows the slightest hint of self-pity.
"If we just want to sit back and get beat, then we can sit back and get beat," Williams said. "Because everyone will say, 'Hey, you lost your point guard and you weren't very deep, and you didn't have any post players, and man, it was a heck of a deal."'
Conventional wisdom might provide excuses, but Williams insists he isn't lowering his own expectations.
"Whatever side of the fence you want to be on, get on that side of the fence," Williams said. "But as long as I'm here, we're going to fight."
Williams praised the way James has responded to the injury with maturity -- an attribute Williams hinted he didn't always see in James, either as an assistant to Tom Crean last season or after taking over as Marquette's head coach when Crean left for Indiana.
Williams alluded to having trust issues with James early on, saying that their relationship wasn't always "built 1,000 percent on honesty."
"I've said some things to Dominic James that I haven't ever said to any player," Williams said. "He didn't necessarily like hearing it, and it wasn't about him as a player."
But now, Williams says he and James often end up talking at 2 a.m. and text-message each other "like girls."
"'Nic's life has changed, and as 'Nic's life has changed, so has his game," Williams said.
Now James' role has changed: part assistant coach, part cheerleader.
"I'll just have to suck it up and swallow it, that it's over and done with," James said. "My playing career as far as on the court is over here at Marquette. It's going to be tough. It's going to be tough. But I'm not worried. I know my guys are going to go out there and represent me well, just as they have every other game."
But before James completely turns the page on his college career, he had one last reminder: Sure, he might have hurt himself landing awkwardly after a 3-point attempt.
But at least he hit the shot.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)