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Farewell, Paul Scruggs

Xavier’s super senior never gave anything but his very best effort. For that he should be loved forever.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier
Never tell me Xavier didn’t love Paul Scruggs
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Scruggs: 151 games, Per game: 10.8/3.9/3.4 Shooting: .452/.740/.345

Paul Scruggs deserved to go out so much better than he did. Xavier’s talismanic, junkyard dog of a super senior shouldn’t have had to walk back out on crutches to the applause of a crowd that had always supported him. He should have gotten to celebrate an NIT championship with his teammates, he should be getting ready for a professional career and, possibly, the NBA draft. Instead, Scruggs senior season ended in a heap on the floor at the Cintas Center.

Paul Scruggs is the last player to have scored for Xavier in an NCAA tournament game. His nerveless free throws with 1:49 to play gave Xavier a 70-68 lead over Florida State. Since then, no Xavier player has scored in the tournament. Scruggs surely felt at that moment that he would return. The teams he played on had plenty of returning talent, highly rated recruits, and a coach that seemed poised to carry on the Xavier tradition.

Instead, Scruggs played a handful of NIT games and missed out on the run that would redeem this season. Enough negativity, though, because what stood out about Paul Scruggs was the way that adversity didn’t get him down. Scruggs finished his career having played 151 games for Xavier, the most of anyone ever, he finished fifth on Xavier’s all time assist list, and he finished sixth in steals. None of the raw numbers tell the story of Paul Scruggs.

We have been accused of leaning too far into the numbers, our beloved metrics. Scruggs somewhat defies that. He was a born leader, even as a freshman he was vocal. By the time Scruggs entered his super senior season he was in his full form. At his best he was a snarling, cajoling, screaming, arm around the shoulder leader. He was constantly on the edge of what appeared to be a full blown rage attack on the court. When Xavier was playing well, you could count on Scruggs to be leading the charge, yelling at someone.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Scruggs wasn’t just the dog on the court, though. A Twitter search of his name finds countless pictures of him in the student section exchanging high fives and hugs. More telling to his character, there are also plenty of him with an arm around a kid, smiling for a postgame picture or after a quick pregame autograph. In a world filled with prima donnas, Paul Scruggs is a genuine ballplayer who never failed to take the time for anyone who wanted it.

Which in some ways brings us back to his last game. After getting injured, Scruggs returned to the bench. After hugging half the arena, he took his place on the end of the bench next to David Fluker. Seconds later he was already leaning forward to yell instructions to his teammates, leading the cheers, and exhorting the players he didn’t feel were living up to the standard. That could easily be the enduring memory of him, beaten down but unwilling to let it go. Still right in the thick of the fight no matter how unfair the circumstance seemed. His impact on the program was obvious when his teammates warmed up in his jerseys and dedicated their late run to him.

That’s not how I want to remember Paul Scruggs, though. His 14/5/5 in this year’s demolition of Cincinnati were a highlight, but they came well after maybe the best play of Scruggs career. With Xavier up 65-62 on an Ohio State team making a late comeback, the Musketeers turned to their senior leader. When Scruggs got the ball at the top of the key, it was EJ Liddell, a guy with eight blocks in the game, a guy who would finish second in the Big Ten in block rate, waiting for him at the rim. Paul Scruggs, forever Xavier’s fearless junkyard dog of a guard, took the ball right at him. Scruggs didn’t get the send off he deserved, but he made a play that Xavier fans will remember forever.

Farewell, Paul Scruggs, the five year embodiment of what it meant to be Xavier. Paul was the bridge between the Chris Mack teams and the promise of what is to come. Some day soon the Musketeers will be back in the Sweet 16, hopefully #1 is on hand to see it again.