*This is the final installment in a series of articles looking at the top preseason storylines for Xavier basketball heading into the 2016-17 season.*
If this offseason was any indication, Xavier fans better enjoy watching Trevon Bluiett this year while he's still in a navy and white uniform. After testing the NBA waters and receiving some feedback, Bluiett ultimately decided to return to XU. However, it's clear that the Third-Team All-American selection has aspirations to pursue the game at the professional level as soon as he can.
That's not to say the Musketeers' leading scorer is looking ahead - he's fully committed to this season with Team 95. In order to leave early and play in the NBA, which is his ultimate goal, he'll need a brilliant season that not only includes personal success but also team success.
And when it comes to his legacy at Xavier University, team success will be the only real way he can leave the indelible mark a player of his caliber should leave. Without a run in the NCAA tournament, Bluiett's career is in danger of getting lost in the archives at some point. Instead of leaving as a Musketeer legend, he could just be another really good player that becomes the answer to a Tom Eiser trivia question.
If this is his last season playing in the Cintas Center, he's not going to surpass any major milestones. He'll hit 1,000 career points this year, but he's not going to approach Lenny Brown's total of 1,885 points, which currently ranks fifth in Xavier history, nor will he approach Brian Grant's tally of 1,719, which is 10th. He's not threatening any career records.
That's not a knock on him. He's a tremendous player that has made an impact from the day he stepped foot on campus while playing alongside other good players. Having the opportunity to leave college early would be a tribute to his hard work and talent. But leaving early doesn't lend itself to carving out a memorable place at a program with a rich history of four-year players.
Jordan Crawford's 2009-10 campaign is the gold standard for making a lasting impression during an abbreviated stay on campus. But he played on a team that required him to shoot 16 shots a game to where he could average 20.5 points. He also led the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 before losing to Kansas State in one of the greatest games in NCAA Tournament history.
Bluiett heard feedback from NBA scouts during the spring that he needed to reshape his body and then received even harsher criticism at NBA skill camps over the summer. He sharpened his conditioning and discipline with his diet, shedding over 15 more pounds from his frame. He was listed at 208 last season but was said to have been playing at closer to 215 or more by the end of the year. He's listed at 198 this year but has dipped below 195 at times this preseason according to Chris Mack.
He averaged 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 30.6 minutes per game last year as a sophomore. He probably has the ability to increase his production a little bit within the structure of Xavier's current roster, but the Musketeers are still balanced enough that he's unlikely to have a monster year in terms of numbers.
Where he can improve on the offensive end is how he scores his points. Through his first two seasons, he's established himself as a top-notch shooter and isolation scorer. Surprisingly, his most efficient scoring plays last year were ball-screen situations (1.05 points per possession), yet they only accounted for 7.7 percent of his possessions on offense. The hope is that a little extra quickness from slimming down will make him an improved driver that is able to get to the rim more often and draw more fouls, which serves as a more reliable option than jump shots with the game on the line or when he goes cold from the outside. And, of course, he can always make another stride defensively, which coaches are also hoping for with his weight loss. Improvements in both of those areas will benefit the team and Bluiett's NBA stock.
Ultimately, though, this season is much more about which games he shows up for and how far he can lead this team than it is his personal numbers.
There's a very strong argument to be made that Bluiett is the most important recruit in Xavier history. He's not technically the highest-ranked prospect the Musketeers pulled in (Semaj Christon is) and he may not win National Player of the Year like David West did.
But Bluiett signified a breakthrough for Xavier as a high major recruiting power.
He was a known commodity by his freshman year of high school. He starred on one of the biggest AAU programs while playing alongside multiple elite prospects. He had high major offers by his sophomore year. The Musketeers went head-to-head for him and beat programs like Indiana, Michigan State, UCLA, Memphis, and Butler, which was the hometown school for him and still riding the wave of Brad Stevens (until he took the job with the Celtics) and the consecutive National Championship game appearances. They didn't have to find a diamond in the rough this time. They didn't have to discover a hidden talent and establish a relationship before the kid blew up. They won outright for one of the best scorers in the country who was well known from the day he started his high school career.
Landing a recruit like him sends a message to future recruits. It paves the way for Xavier to land a five-man class in 2017 that includes two top 40 players and is currently ranked fifth in the country. It creates the expectation that big-time players commit to Xavier. It makes it more familiar, cooler even, for another highly-ranked young talent from Indianapolis like Paul Scruggs to spurn the Big Ten for the Big East and XU.
Bluiett was a key piece on an exciting team that was fun to watch last year. It was a brilliant regular season that should be remembered fondly by fans, but it will always be overshadowed by the incredibly disappointing postseason loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
It feels like the players on that team deserve to be remembered, and a lot of the core guys are back with Bluiett, JP Macura, Edmond Sumner, and Myles Davis. This is their chance to make good on what should have been.
And for Bluiett this is his chance to cement his legacy on Victory Parkway. It starts tonight.
Read the other articles in this series: