- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

MILWAUKEE (AP) - First Marquette hired a coach named Buzz. Now the Golden Eagles have become the bald eagles for the NCAA tournament.

Marquette players will sport a smooth new look for Friday’s first-round game against Utah State, having shaved their heads in a demonstration of team unity this week. The trims came courtesy of leading scorer and unofficial team barber Jerel McNeal, who apparently is as skilled with a pair of clippers as he is with the ball in his hands.

“I’m not professional by any stretch _ but you know, I do a little somethin’,” McNeal bragged.

The hair-razing experience _ and the good-natured intrasquad ribbing that followed _ are signs that the Golden Eagles didn’t lose their sense of humor during a downward spiral that began with a season-ending foot injury to point guard Dominic James.

“I think it says a lot about the camaraderie of our guys,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “Good players, bad players combined, they all did it. And I think that says a lot about the relationships they have with one another, for sure.”

The haircuts aren’t necessarily a tribute to Williams, who does shave his head on game days but actually earned his nickname because of his energy.

Still, Williams _ whose real name is Brent _ called it a “nice look” for the team.

“They’re a lot better-looking than I am, so I think it helps their appeal more so than mine,” Williams said.

Wesley Matthews didn’t exactly offer a well-thought-out rationale for the players’ decision to shave their heads.

“Why not? It’ll grow back,” Matthews said.

But Matthews did go out of his way to insist that Marquette’s confidence hasn’t been shattered by its recent losing streak. The Golden Eagles did, after all, lose three of those five games to No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh.

“We’re all right,” Matthews said. “I swear, if you guys came to our practice, you would have never thought that we lost five of our last six and we lost a heartbreaker in the Big East tournament. I swear, you guys would think we’re the Big East champions.”

While McNeal said nobody on the team is superstitious, he seemed pretty sure he’d perform another round of haircuts if Marquette advances in the tournament.

“If we go out there and we do right and we get two wins, you’d better believe everybody will be getting some more haircuts before the Sweet 16,” McNeal said.

Besides, McNeal said some players look good bald; Matthews insisted he looked the best.

Others? Not so much.

“Some of them found their new looks,” McNeal said. “Some other ones, you know how they’re going to look down the line once they start going bald.”

And most of them have McNeal to thank _ or blame, as the case may be.

“He tends to pose as a barber over at Humphrey Hall, I think,” Williams said, referring to a campus residence hall. “I don’t know that his skill set’s very good.”

Matthews passed, opting to use an actual barber.

“If I was going to take all my hair off, I was going to have it professionally done,” Matthews said. “Nothing against ‘Rel, though. He did a great job with everybody else’s head.”

The one notable holdout was James _ then again, he’s more of an extra assistant coach than a player after the injury.

Although the fun already is under way to some extent, Williams is encouraging players to enjoy the trip to Boise, Idaho as much as they can before Friday’s tipoff.

“I’m going to grab a couple of potatoes to share with the students on campus,” Matthews joked.

Williams tried to go incognito and walk around campus on Tuesday, hoping to get a feel for the flavor of Marquette-style March Madness. His disguise didn’t work, though.

“It was about 30 minutes where I just walked through campus and just said, ‘Thanks for all your support, thanks for being a part of it. It’s your team just as it is our team,’” Williams said. “And they were very appreciative. So I thought it was pretty cool. I wanted to kind of absorb that.”

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