Backup to the Best: The Marquette Basketball Dynasty through the Eyes of Brendan Carney

When you think of Marquette University, you think of basketball. When you think of Marquette basketball, you think of names such as Dwayne Wade, Markus Howard, Vander Blue, and Butch Lee. But do you think of Brendan Carney? Probably not. 

There are plenty of guys like Carney on the Marquette team who you have never heard of (and likely may never hear of). These walk-ons and backup players spend four years with the team but rarely get more than a few minutes of playing time. I sat down with my old friend Carney, a freshman walk-on to the Golden Eagles team this season, to gain a bit of insight into what life is really like as a backup player for a renowned team like Marquette. 

Carney was in conversation with the Marquette coaching staff prior to enrolling in the university. He sent them “all of the game film they needed to see” over the summer, then did workouts with the coaches during the team’s tryouts in the fall. After seeing what Carney had to offer the program, they liked him and kept him on the team for the 2019-2010 season. 

Carney’s favorite part of playing on the team is being given the opportunity to play at the highest level and travel around the country. He also enjoys the privileges that come with being a player for the basketball team around school. He noted that basketball is “Marquette’s thing,” pointing out that they don’t have football or baseball, so all of the attention on campus is centered around the basketball players. Despite his lack of playing time, Carney is likely to receive multiple fist-pumps and shoutouts around campus each day, just at the sight of his basketball backpack. 

It’s not all glitz and glamour for players like Carney, however. With regular 6am wakeup calls and trips around the country, being a backup player doesn’t make him immune from the exhaustion and expectation that comes with playing for a D1 school. Carney feels the most difficult part of it all is the  huge time commitment and physical difficulty, also pointing out that “you gotta be here on Christmas.” 

At Sacred Heart Prep, Carney averaged 15.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game during his senior season, scoring double figures in each game.

So what do these tough, tiring days really look like?  

Carney finds himself up “after hitting snooze a couple of times” at 6:30am most days, getting to lift by 7:30. After an hour long lift, he eats a breakfast of eggs and bacon, then goes to class for the rest of the morning. 

He heads to the facilities at around 1pm to eat lunch and get out onto the court to warm-up for about an hour before practice actually starts. Practice goes for around 3 hours, followed by watching film with the team, then by dinner. Four days a week, Carney and most of the guys have tutoring in the evening to help out with their school work. His chaotic day ends with studying and homework, hopefully getting to bed before 12. 

Then he wakes up and does it all again the next day. 

This is the typical day of most of his teammates as well, even those who start every game. According to Carney, it sounds like his experience on the team and that of guys like Markus Howard are actually pretty similar, despite the fact that guys like Carney don’t get the recognition on a national level but actually “put in all the same work.” 

Although this can make it difficult to remain inspired to keep up his level of play, Carney loves the opportunity he gets to play, or warm up, in front of 15,000 fans and be a part of the community that is Marquette basketball. 

Guys like Carney are crucial to accomplishing his own goal for the team, which would simply be to “continue to win a lot of games as a team and bring in more fans…which makes it more fun for everyone.” Carney’s team-oriented targets remind me of one thing: to take a second to look to the sidelines during a game, recognize those players, learn their names, and appreciate what they contribute to what actually goes on on the court.

– Katherine Salisbury


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