MILWAUKEE — Marquette sophomore guard Vander Blue is used to having all eyes on him.
A Madison, Wis., native, Blue originally committed to the University of Wisconsin but later changed his mind. Blue’s fast-break style of offense was not well suited for the Badgers’ half-court mentality, so he wandered toward coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles, located only 75 miles east.
At that point, the spotlight brightened even more for Blue.
In Williams’ four years as Marquette’s coach, Blue is perhaps his most prized recruit. Before Blue played even one collegiate game, he was ranked by many NBA scouting services as a top-30 pro prospect if he were to leave college after one season.
But as a freshman, Blue averaged only 5.1 points per game in 19.0 minutes. He shot 16.0 percent from 3-point range and 39.4 percent from the field. His stock began to plummet.
“Being recruited, I was known as a scorer out of high school,” Blue said. “It was more of a fact of me just getting comfortable and making sure that I can get to the point where I can take a shot and know that Buzz won’t take me out if I miss.
“I never really worry about scoring. I know people said I couldn’t score last year. I could score, but it was more that I wasn’t looking at the basket. This year, I’m looking at the basket. Now I guess people see I can score. I can tell from the defense now, too. More people are respecting me and actually adjusting to me.”
Blue’s numbers have improved this year. He is averaging 8.6 points in 25.6 minutes, making 43.1 percent of his shots and 25.9 percent of his 3-pointers. He has scored in double digits in six of Marquette’s past seven games, helping fuel a run of 12 wins in 13 games that has the Golden Eagles ranked eighth in the country.
Despite that improvement, Blue’s ranking with NBA scouting services has dropped into the 80s.
“The NBA is going to come,” Blue said. “All the rankings don’t really mean nothing to me anymore. I feel like it changes every day. I feel like the more our team wins, the better the situation will be for everybody. The rankings don’t mean anything.
“At this point, there’s really not much more talent that you’re going to get. It’s more just polishing up things, trying to develop better habits. You’re not going to become an awesome player that you imagined yourself to be like a LeBron James or someone like that. It’s kind of too late for that. Now you just have to master what you do.”
Entering college, Blue was known as a point guard who is at his best when slashing to the basket. But in his freshman and sophomore seasons, he has been forced to play out of position. First, it was senior Dwight Buycks in the 2010-11 season blocking Blue from the point-guard spot. This season, Junior Cadougan has been the starter at the point, with Blue starting at the wing position.
“I’m really a primary one (point guard), so I’m having to adjust here playing off the ball,” Blue said, comparing his game to that of Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. “I like to get out. I like to push. I like to have exciting plays.
“I like to show the scouts that I can rebound with the best, defend the one (point guard) through the four (power forward) and do whatever it is. The rankings really don’t bother me. I feel like if I would get into that stuff, it would affect me in my head and I wouldn’t play as well.
“As far as the NBA, I’m just seeing how everything plays out.”
Blue has very good size for a point guard at 6-foot-4, 208 pounds. That is a primary reason for scouts’ initial interest in him. The concern, however, has been with his jump shot and perimeter offensive game.
“It’s not all about the jump shot,” Blue said. “I’ve hit shots before, and I’ve missed them. Players like Dwyane Wade can score 30 without even hitting the 3. I feel like you can be just as effective going to the basket and getting fouled than shooting a jump shot. It’s not that I can’t shoot. I can say that if I looked for it more, then I could display it. I think the older I get, the better I’m getting.
“I really look at Brandon Jennings and guys like that. People doubted him, saying he really couldn’t shoot and whatnot, but he is one of the most effective point guards in the league. I think I have an advantage with my size in comparison to other guards. I think that I can, when the time is right, I think I can adjust to that and become that shooter or whatever people want me to be.”
Blue has plenty of time to get pro scouts back on his side. He won’t turn 20 years old until mid-July. If his offense continues to improve, his size will help him live out his dream of playing in the NBA.