Coaches love him. Players admire him. And opposing fans hate him.
Meet J.P. Macura, Xavier’s divisive senior guard.
He’s the object of scorn in road arenas, an intense sharpshooter who will stop at nothing to win, the Big East’s No. 1 villain. And Macura doesn’t mind that title, because it means he’s doing something right, that he’s worthy of the venom. “The Dennis the Menace” nickname is there for a reason.
“It’s incredible, when people are yelling at you the whole time, saying you suck, you’re this, you’re that, you’re nothing, to see them walk out with time on the clock, it’s awesome,” the 6-foot-5 standout from Minnesota said in a phone interview as No. 1 Xavier prepared for this week’s Big East Tournament at the Garden.
He feeds off it. Of his five 20-point games this season, four came away from home.
The root of it can be traced to some extracurricular incidents. On Nov. 16 late in a win at Wisconsin, Macura did the “Gator Chomp” at the Badgers student section, a reference to Wisconsin’s loss to Florida in the previous NCAA Tournament. He exchanged words with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin after a non-conference victory this year, Cronin saying Macura told him to “‘eff off’ three times,” which Macura and Xavier coach Chris Mack denied. His unnecessary tomahawk dunk in the final seconds of an easy win at Butler a few years ago made him a villain there, and it didn’t help when he tweeted “The Xavier Way” after a win over the Bulldogs this year.
He was arrested on March 31, 2016, outside of a Cincinnati bar, charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and obstructing official business. That gave fans ammunition. And then he would respond to their chants by hitting big shots, making game-winning plays, and letting them know about it. He became easy to hate. He’ll never hesitate to get in someone’s face or mix it up at the bottom of a pile. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called it “playing with a reckless abandon.”
“You hate playing against him and you’d love to have him on your team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He’s not interested in making friends with guys on the other team. He’s not interested in what fans think about him. A lot of guys think about their image, and what they look like, [but not him].”
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Mack said. “Part of the reason our program has won 102 games during his time is his spirit and leadership and his toughness.”
So is his selflessness. A four-year contributor, Macura has played in four NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16’s. While his scoring numbers fell this year, from 14.4 to 12.4 points per game, because he took 2.3 fewer shots per game, his shooting percentages rose, while his assists numbers went up slightly. He didn’t care since Xavier won the Big East, ending Villanova’s four-year reign atop the league.
Individual stats don’t matter to him. Neither do accolades. When he wasn’t honored on any of the All-Big East teams, Mack texted Macura, expressing his disappointment.
“Coach, I don’t care about any of that crap,” Macura wrote back.
“I’ve never really looked at myself and said how many points do I have, how many rebounds, how many assists,” he said. “I only want to win.”
Macura said his competitive fire developed early on, when he used to play different sports with his older brother, David, and his friends. Macura often lost, and it angered him.
“I hate losing,” he said.
It’s not just basketball. It’s in everything. He’s tried to rein himself in, but not on the court. That’s not going to change.
“I just think any time you have a player who does whatever it takes to win and is super-competitive, always has high energy, ” Macura said, “you can’t help but not like that person.”