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Wisconsin Pride
February 14, 2005
Meet the Dieners of Fond du Lac, the first family of heartland hoops--three generations that have shot and smiled through stardom and sorrow
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February 14, 2005

Wisconsin Pride

Meet the Dieners of Fond du Lac, the first family of heartland hoops--three generations that have shot and smiled through stardom and sorrow

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Promise Yourself--To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

--The Optimists Creed, 1922

The optimist died young, so it's his widow who comes to watch the grandchildren play. She watched them all grow up, the sons and daughters and now the grandchildren the Optimist never knew. "Be too large for worry," he used to say, but he missed all this, and so she misses him with every shot made, every point scored and every note the pep band plays. � Tonight she's tucked into the corner of the Allstate Arena out on the far O'Hare fringes of Chicagoland. One of her sons sits three seats over. One of his sons is playing for the DePaul Blue Demons, and another is helping coach them. Somewhere in this arena is another of her sons, fussing and fuming, she is sure, and one of his sons is playing for the Marquette Golden Eagles, who are having a bad time of it against DePaul. She's sort of rooting for the Blue Demons because she's sitting with the son whose son is playing for DePaul, but she's rooting too for the skinny kid in the blue-and-gold uniform with the swagger in his step and the beard that is largely wishful thinking, the little squirt who used to career around her driveway and her living room and her kitchen and much of the greater metropolitan area of Fond du Lac, Wis.

Travis Diener has been the central part of a four-year revival of the basketball program at Marquette. A 6'1", 175-pound point guard, he was averaging 20.0 points through Sunday--22nd in the nation--and 6.8 assists, and was closing in on the school's alltime scoring record, which has stood for 35 years. He is one of 30 finalists for the Wooden Award, presented to the nation's best college player, and one of 18 finalists for the Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard. Two years ago Diener and Dwyane Wade, currently in Miami d/b/a the anti-Kobe, led Marquette to the Final Four for the first time since Al McGuire's team won it all in 1977. It was Diener's 29 points that saved that team from what would have been an embarrassing first-round loss to Holy Cross.

"It's gone by so fast," he muses. "It just seems like I just set foot on campus, just got done playing high school basketball with my uncle coaching me, and now I'm two months away from it all being over."

Diener began at Marquette as a weapon off the bench, a deadly three-point shooter used by coach Tom Crean to shake up the game. (At week's end he was shooting a gaudy 43.9% this season from beyond the arc.) Now, though, he's become a versatile player of startling intelligence--"His basketball IQ," says Marquette forward Steve Novak, "is off the charts"--and surpassing toughness.

Travis Diener's talking all the time, chewing on his teammates and chatting up referees from baseline to baseline, and occasionally even having a word for the fans, who get on him in arenas around the country the way that the fans once did in all those icebox gyms in the Fox Valley Association, where they'd taunt him with speculation that the Dieners all married each other. In short, as it were, Travis Diener plays the game in such a way as to make Duke's cocky J.J. Redick look as 'umble as Uriah Heep.

"You have to be like that, if you're my size," Travis explains. "If you're not, the people at this level will just eat you alive. You'll be done."

"He always was a cocky little s---," his father, Bob, says, admiringly, and that's how to distinguish Travis from all the other Dieners. After that, it's best to line them up all at once. If you don't, you can get lost in the Dieners and never find your way out.

There's Travis, who'll be 23 on March 1, and his two younger sisters, Rachel and Brittney, both of whom play college basketball--Rachel at Saint Louis University and Brittney at Lewis in Illinois. That's the easy part. Now this is where the whole thing starts to go all Plantagenet on us.

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