March 5, 2009

By Anthony Oliva III

For nearly four full seasons, Marquette guard Dominic James was a focal point for the Golden Eagles on the court.

Now, as the Golden Eagles have positioned themselves to make possibly their deepest postseason run during James’ tenure, the former All-Big East, senior point guard will be forced to watch from the bench due to a season-ending injury.

James, who was averaging 11.4 points, 5.1 assists, 2.2 steals in nearly 32 minutes a game this year, suffered a broken bone in his left foot on Feb. 12 against Connecticut, and despite playing an instrumental role in making the thirteenth-ranked Golden Eagles one of the premier teams in the Big East and the nation this year, he will not be able to assist them in the postseason – on the court that is.

Off the court, the 5-foot-11 James figures to have a huge impact.

“I've always felt like I've been a coach, especially being an extension of Coach [Buzz Williams] out there on the court, but now I'm just on the sideline,” James said. “Hopefully Coach will have a seat saved for me so I can be close to the guys.”

James can become a very valuable leader on this sidelines because of his experience. He’s played in 128 games for the Golden Eagles, currently a school record – although teammate Jerel McNeal has a chance to top that record if the Golden Eagles win at least one postseason game.

Losing James on the court is a devastating blow, but Marquette, which is 23-7 overall and 12-5 in the Big East despite losing its last three games without James, has to move on, and move on quickly, if it plans to live up to expectations.

“I told the guys and the guys told me that, you know, the ship must keep moving,” James said. “I'm not going to be an anchor to my teammates. I'm going to be a propeller.”

James has been that “propeller” on the court since his freshman year when he set the Marquette freshman scoring mark with 473 points, or a 15.3 points per game average. He also had the second-most assists by any freshman in MU history.

For four years James has commanded the Marquette offense at the point, but now that his career has prematurely come to an end, that duty falls to junior guard Maurice Acker. Acker, a 5-foot-8 guard from Illinois, is averaging only 2.4 points, 1.7 assists in 13.9 minutes a game.

“Maurice just has to go out there and play like Maurice does,” James said. “He can't go out there and over think the game, he just has to let his natural instinct take over. That's when Maurice is at his best. If Maurice plays like he does in practice and provides that same type of energy, enthusiasm, and intensity, we will be fine.”

If Acker is going to fill James’ shoes on a big stage, he will have to rely heavily on James’ guidance.

“The things that Dominic was telling Maurice during the game were things that I should have been telling him, but I'm worried about the other nine guys out there too. That's why (James) sat in my seat,” Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said.

The Indiana native didn’t spend much time on the bench during his career as he has been a mainstay for the Golden Eagles the past four years. He has been an integral part of Marquette’s success in that time and he is, in fact, the third leading scorer in Marquette history and second in assists. And this year, although his statistics might not prove so, might have been his best yet.

With teammates McNeal and Wesley Matthews both averaging over 18 points a game, James unselfishly deferred to those playmakers and got them the ball more and more. He became efficient at the running the offense which often consisted of three guards and continued to play stellar defense.

“When you take away not his points, even not his assists, but when you take away what he gave to our team (that’s the problem),” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “Everybody talks about it offensively but we can overcome it offensively. He went from the fourth or fifth leading scorer on our team, but the problem is what he gave us defensively and some of the things that he did for our team.”

Since James went down, the Golden Eagles are 0-3, but that has also coincided with a tough stretch of schedule against No. 1 Connecticut, No. 6 Louisville and No. 3 Pittsburgh. It doesn’t get any easier for Marquette as it faces No. 25 Syracuse on Saturday and then looks ahead to the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

Unfortunately for James, he will not be able to contribute on the court, but if Marquette expects to have success in the postseason, they will need his leadership off it.