"None of us heard the [one-and-one] call except him," Crean says. "It goes to show you what his mind is like. You can't put a price tag on his intellect on the floor."
"He's not your stereotypical coach's kid," Charlotte's Lutz says of Travis. "Some of them are as smart as him, but they're not as talented. He's smart, and he can play. He's a great player and a great thinker. He looks a little hurt now, though."
Indeed, Travis's final college season turned unkind on him as Marquette rounded the corner into conference play. He sprained his left foot badly during the landfill that was Marquette's nonconference schedule, and the injury was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture. The Golden Eagles lost to DePaul and then to Charlotte, despite Diener's heads-up play, and to see him laboring is to see half of what he is. His game is now one of small loops and arcs, not straight lines and sharp angles, so he is much easier to guard. When Crean sat Diener on the road against Louisville, Marquette disintegrated entirely, losing by 47 points, the worst loss in the school's history. When an MRI later revealed a stress fracture, Travis sat out two more games. Last Saturday, however, with Marquette struggling, he came off the bench for the first time since he was a freshman, putting up 17 points and handing out eight assists in a win over Southern Mississippi.
Full strength or not, this is when people are sizing him up for the NBA. Wade, for one, thinks Diener can help an NBA team. "I look at Travis as a Luke Ridnour kind of player, who can come in and help because he doesn't have to be the main guy," Wade says, invoking the Seattle SuperSonics' second-year point guard. For the nonce, though, on one leg or two, Diener is the main guy at Marquette.
"I'm really not thinking about [the NBA] at all," he says. "I'm just trying to get through this season, trying to win as many games as we can. I'm just trying to leave my mark here, for now."
In fact, this year there isn't a single Diener playing any sport at Fond du Lac High. June makes the trip to watch Dick's team play, and she tries to see her grandchildren in action as often as she can, although she hates to travel to Chicago. Even the basketball hoop on the garage is gone, knocked down by one of her grandsons over the Thanksgiving break. "He keeps telling me he's going to put it back up," she says. "He'd better." She also has a 10-year-old great-grandson--Angie's son, Jacob--whom she's keeping her eye on.
"He plays in all the little tournaments," she says. "He can play."
One son is one block over, and the other one is eight blocks away, and some of the grandchildren are playing on television now, and one of them might still play in the NBA, and she still misses the Optimist, who's missed so much of it. She dips her head just a little, and then she comes up, eyes smiling, pointing to another of the pictures on the dining room wall. The winter sun is high now, and there are no shadows in between.