CINCINNATI — They claim it’s all in good fun. Still, when it comes to needling a hated rival, college basketball fans often lose their sense of tact. There are no ground rules, no filters. Everyone is fair game.
Even a player’s grandma.
Xavier standout J.P. Macura discovered that firsthand last winter, when a member of Butler’s student group, the “Dawg Pound,” phoned his family’s home in Lakeville, Minnesota, a few days before the Musketeers faced the Bulldogs. When Macura’s grandmother—who was dog-sitting while his parents were out of town—answered the call, a man posing as J.P.’s “close friend” told her he’d misplaced J.P.’s number and asked if she could provide it.
Grandma obliged, and for the next few days, Macura’s phone vibrated nonstop with texts and calls—many of them on FaceTime—from trash-talking Butler fans hellbent on rattling him before the big game.
“I’ve never had a player that drew the wrath of an opponent’s student section quite like J.P.,” Xavier coach Chris Mack says. “They do everything they can to get under his skin.”
Perhaps that’s because he gets under theirs.
A 6’5″ senior, Macura ranks second in points (12.2) and assists (3.0) for Big East champion Xavier, which won its first regular-season conference title since 2011 before being selected as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that begins this week.
Yet while Musketeers fans recognize and appreciate how vital he’s been to their team’s 28-5 record—not to mention last season’s Elite Eight berth—Macura is known more nationally as an irritant, a conniver who toys with opposing fans and players mentally as much as physically.
Marcura is the guy who infuriates baseline hecklers by clapping in their faces or smirking as he stands before them after a layup. On the road he evokes boos when he raises his arms after swishing a three-pointer and glaring at the crowd as he trots down the court. And in between the whistles he always has something to say to his defender.
You realize you have four fouls, don’t you?
Sure would be embarrassing if you missed these free throws.
Have you seriously not scored a single point yet?
Yes, John Paul Macura is the Dennis the Menace of college basketball. And he’s fine with that.
“If I played with no emotion,” Macura says, “and if I didn’t get into it or get the crowd going…I don’t know. I just feel like it wouldn’t be fun. I try to bring energy and excitement to the game.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
“I wouldn’t want to play basketball any other way.”
Mack, who beat out Creighton and Butler for Macura’s services back in 2013, says he’s rarely had to “rein in” his senior shooting guard. He knows how much Macura’s game thrives on engaging with opponents and fans. Plus, Mack believes Macura knows how to approach the line of poor taste without crossing it.
Still, the one thing Mack and others close to Macura regret is that more people don’t know about the real J.P. Macura. It’s unfortunate, they say, that opinions are based on a handful of sporadic, braggadocious moments on the court instead of the touching gestures and acts his family and inner circle have witnessed off it.
In some ways, they say, Macura is more poodle than pit bull.
“The people that don’t like him are never going to like him,” Mack says. “But the people that get to know him, the people who have interacted with him and met him at the mall or seen him around town…they come away with a completely different perception.
“They realize that J.P. Macura isn’t anything like the guy they see on TV.”
“Dude, I’m going to score more points today than you did on your ACT.”
Although he certainly has tried, J.P. Macura has yet to top that putdown, a nifty bit of trash talk delivered at an Iowa State camp during his senior year of high school.
Then-Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg—who’d been watching from the stands—heard about Macura’s remark and summoned him to his office after the game. When Macura acknowledged that he’d indeed uttered that comment to his opponent, Hoiberg erupted in laughter.
“That’s one of the best lines I’ve ever heard,” Hoiberg told Macura. “I’d like to offer you a scholarship.”
That was hardly the first time a coach