August 19, 2010

Marquette looks for immediate impact from Blue

Vander Blue knew he wanted to play close to home.

Blue, a five-star guard from Madison (Wis.) Memorial, wanted to make sure his mother got a chance to watch him play college basketball. Blue said he learned the value of hard work from his mom, Rita Blue, who became a mother while attending college and raised three children on her own.

"She taught me how to be a man," Blue said.

The question was how close to home he wanted to play. Blue committed to hometown Wisconsin as a high school sophomore. He withdrew the commitment to the Badgers a year later and eventually signed with Marquette, which is in Milwaukee. The change of heart naturally caused some hard feelings.

"It was difficult," Blue said. "Basically, I had to grow up a lot faster than I wanted. There was a lot of stuff online and a lot of stuff in the paper. It made me grow up much faster than I'd planned."

The criticism he encountered ultimately may have prepared him for the adversity he's bound to face as a true freshman earning playing time in the nation's toughest conference. Marquette needs an immediate impact from Blue, the most highly touted recruit to sign with the Eagles since they joined the Big East in 2005.

"Speed kills," Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford said. "This guy's blessed with a great deal of natural ability. He's going to be maybe one of the quickest guys in our league from day one."

Blue long has possessed plenty of physical skills, and he recently has added more toughness to his game. Blue admits he used to consider himself a flashy type of player. Now he believes he's more physical.

The change was obvious this summer when Blue played for Team USA at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in San Antonio. Instead of worrying about how much he might score, Blue believed he could best help his team as a defensive stopper. His tenacious defense helped the U.S. team win the gold medal.

"Everybody can score nowadays," Blue said. "So many athletes can score the ball. When I was out there, I didn't want to be like everybody else and just score. I wanted to make my presence felt somewhere else."

Benford believes Blue's experience representing his country will help him make a quicker adjustment to big-time college basketball. "It really helped him from the standpoint that now he knows how hard you have to play every day," Benford said. "They had two-a-day practices. It was basically college practices with college coaches. It gave him an idea of how hard it's going to be night in and night out."

This wasn't the first time Blue -- the No. 24 prospect in the class -- had learned the value of hard work. Blue's potential was evident even as a fourth-grader. Shelton Kingcade found him playing a pickup game at a park and had him sign up for the Madison Spartans, an AAU team that consisted primarily of fifth-graders. By the time he was in sixth and seventh grade, Blue already was showing plenty of long-term potential.

Blue at the top
As the No. 24 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, Vander Blue is the most highly rated prospect to sign with Marquette since Rivals.com began ranking college basketball recruits in 2003. Here's a look at each of the top-100 recruits Marquette has signed in that time.
YearPlayerRank
2003F Dameon Mason37th
The buzz: Mason averaged 11.9 points and 5.6 rebounds and was named Marquette's most improved player during his sophomore season. He then transferred to LSU, where he spent his final two seasons.
2005G Dominic James61st
The buzz: James started each of his four seasons at Marquette and ended his career ranked fourth on the school's career scoring list (1,749), second in assists (632) and fourth in steals (238).
2005G Wesley Matthews85th
The buzz: Matthews, now a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, became the 22nd player in school history with at least 1,000 career points and 500 rebounds. He is Marquette's career leader in free throws made (549) and ranks ninth on the school's all-time scoring list (1,673).
2005G Jerel McNeal99th
The buzz: McNeal compiled 1,985 career points and is Marquette's all-time leading scorer. He also is the school's leader in career steals (287), field goals (726) and field-goal attempts (1,649).
2006F Lazar Hayward 73rd
The buzz: Hayward's 1,859 points ranks second on Marquette's career scoring list. He also played in a school-record 138 games. He was selected by the Washington Wizards with the 30th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, though his rights later were traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
2009G Junior Cadougan73rd
The buzz: Cadougan ruptured his Achilles tendon last September and missed the first 18 games of his freshman season. He played in 12 games and received the team's Hank Raymonds sportsmanship award.
2009F Jeronne Maymon47th
The buzz: Maymon averaged 4.0 points and 4.2 minutes in nine games with Marquette last season before deciding at the end of the fall semester to transfer to Tennessee.
2010G Vander Blue 24th
The buzz: Blue led Madison (Wis.) Memorial High School to one state title and reached the state championship game on two other occasions. He finished high school as the program's career leader in steals (179). He also ranked second in school history in assists (211) and third in points (1,269).
2010F Jamail Jones52nd
The buzz: Jones is from Atlanta, but he spent his senior season at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, a private-school powerhouse outside of Orlando. He averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 3.0 assists last season while helping Montverde finish sixth nationally in the RivalsHigh 100.
He wasn't nearly as serious with his schoolwork, though, and learned his lesson in ninth grade when a poor report card prevented him from accompanying the Spartans to an AAU tournament in Las Vegas. Instead of playing basketball, Blue remained home attending summer school.

"That affected him a lot," Rita Blue said. "He was saying, 'Mom, I don't understand this.' I said, 'If you'd done what you were supposed to do, you wouldn't face these consequences.' "

Blue became a better student. He also became an even better player.

Wisconsin was one of the first schools to notice Blue's potential. Blue rewarded the Badgers by ending his recruitment early, but he eventually regretted that choice.

"After he made that decision, I bet it wasn't more than a month later that he was telling me he didn't know if he'd made the right choice," Kingcade said. "He didn't know if he wanted to go to Wisconsin and if he could give them 110 percent."

As Blue started earning notice on the AAU circuit, his stock began to rise. More schools were showing interest in him. Blue eventually decided to re-open the recruiting process before choosing Marquette.

"It's close to home,'' Blue said. "My mom can see me play. The rest of my family can see me play. I've got a real good relationship with the coaches. When I came here, I loved the environment. Everybody looks out for each other."

Although Blue grew up in Madison, he also has plenty of relatives in Milwaukee. He also is good friends with Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews, a Madison Memorial alum who had a successful career at Marquette.

But that didn't stop him from facing criticism. Blue's mother said the family had to change phone numbers after strangers started leaving critical voice-mail messages.

"It was a very stressful period for both of us," she said.

Blue's change of heart may have created some headaches in the short term, but it could pay off in the long run. Kingcade believes Blue's game is particularly well-suited for the Big East.

"I don't know if they're going to have a hungrier guy on their team," he said. "It's his style of basketball, quite honestly. I think Vander can adapt and play any style of basketball, but the Big East is what he'll feast off of. It's a nice up-and-down-the-court basketball game.

"There are a lot of big-time talented players in that conference. It will make him come to play every night. He relishes the challenge of playing people like that. ... He has a desire unlike anyone I know to want to get it done every time he gets on the court."

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer agrees that Blue should thrive in Marquette's system, though he believes Blue would have fared well wherever he had decided to go.

"Vander Blue would be good anywhere," Meyer said. "I think Marquette is a good fit for him. Marquette has had great success with guards like him - physical and multi-dimensional guards. They play fast and give guards a lot of freedom."

Blue has dealt with enough adversity off the court to handle whatever challenges the Big East might offer on the court.

"A lot of people are going to endure bumps along the way," his mom said. "We go through storms and have to realize through those storms, there's sunshine at the end eventually. He's happy where he is right now. I'm happy. He's grown up."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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