There is no one on this earth who watched a single minute of college basketball this season and doesn’t have an opinion on JP Macura. Xavier’s senior guard was in the midst of everything, all the time, for the last four years. Xavier Nation loved him as they have loved few other players before, opposing fanbases hated him with the energy of a thousand suns. JP wasn’t a player who floated above the fray, he engaged his supporters and detractors with an equal fervor. With his departure Xavier loses more than just an excellent player, they lose the heart of the program.
When JP first came on campus it was as a freshman with a reputation as a shooter who could maybe grow into a 6-5 frame. He quickly demonstrated he was far more than that and also graced with an ability to dominate a game without fear. In his second game for the Musketeers, JP posted a usage rate of 40% and went for 17/2/1 against LBSU. Macura’s freshman year was solid, but as a sophomore, he became legend.
It often takes only a single moment to catapult a player into the national consciousness. Think Grayson Allen tripping, Kemba Walker’s stepback, or Bryce Drew curling off the wing. JP’s came in a barn in Indiana. In that game, which Xavier won 74-57, Macura went for 13/2/2, but no one remembers that. After being heckled by Butler fans all game, JP stole a meaningless inbound pass, gathered himself with a couple of dribbles, and capped the game off by punching down a hammer of a right handed dunk.
That moment became the one by which JP would be defined. While all manner of college players have sworn that they block the crowd out, JP fed off it. When his always aggressive style of play, and he was relentlessly on the attack, made the fans angry they let him know. In return, JP fed off the hate and always found another level to hit. It started in Butler with that emphatic dunk, it didn’t end until JP walked off the court for the final time with a towel draped over his head. He was a master provocateur, gator chomping Wisconsin fans, goading Mick Cronin into losing the miniature amount of self control he has, silencing Seton Hall’s entire student section, and in general endearing himself to everyone he came across by refusing to fit into the cookie cutter image of a three point shooting white guy. Instead, JP was a swaggering, cocky, in your face personification of the Chris Mack Xavier teams. Unrepentant, unbowed, and always ready to face any challenge, JP never fit into anyone’s mold.
Ultimately, it wasn’t JP’s play that endeared him to fans. Yes, he was an excellent player. If he hadn’t been though, if he hadn’t shot 35% from behind the arc for his career, if he hadn’t obliterated Seton Hall for 27/5/3 or scored 18 against Gonzaga with a trip to the Final Four on the line, even if he hadn’t set a career high in points in his penultimate game or not gleefully chucked double digit three point attempts four times in his career, fans would have loved him. There was something about Macura that numbers will never define. Behind the taunting, the trash talk, and the occasional hard foul was a kid who always listened when his coach talked, who was always the first to help a teammate up, and who looked like he was milking every last bit out of himself that he could. Perpetually sucking wind, JP somehow still played 30+ minutes per game in each of his final two seasons. He looked exhausted almost from the off, but was always the most active player on either team. He was the kind of player every fan desperately wants to have on their team.
JP’s career didn’t end how it should have. It should have ended with him in the middle, where he always was, of a pile of teammates celebrating history. While Trevon Bluiett provided the ice cold killer, JP was the unconquerable heart of the team. Because of that his career ended maybe as fittingly as it could have. In his final game, JP was transcendent. Obviously unwilling to have his time in a Musketeers uniform end, he was everywhere against Florida St. His block and steal should forever be remembered in Xavier lore as game defining moments from the most loved player of a generation. Instead, JP left the court with his head covered in a towel and broke down in a tunnel. The heart of Xavier had finally succumbed to the strain and the effort and simply had nothing more to give. In an almost tender moment, Sean O’Mara gently lifted his friend from the floor and helped him to the locker room.
That’s not how I’ll remember JP, though. I’ll remember a million impish grins after another moment of manic inspiration paid off. I’ll remember the young man who was forever with another kid in an Instagram or Twitter post, never from JP himself, but always from someone whose day he’d stopped to make better. I’ll remember him laughing, shrugging, and generally comporting himself like a kid who was every day realizing his dream. Ultimately, I’ll remember that when I think of Xavier basketball, I want to think of players like JP Macura: tough, talented, and fully possessed of the knowledge that they were getting to do something special. Every time I tuned in to see JP, I couldn’t help but smile. Farewell, JP Macura, I very much wish you didn’t have to go.