CINCINNATI -- J.P. Macura doesn't like to lose.
Loathes it, in fact.
The Xavier basketball player doesn't know where his competitive streak developed, but he suspects it was early in his childhood. He spent much of his time trying to keep pace with his brother David, 18 months his senior.
When J.P. wasn't playing one-on-one against David in the family's unfinished basement in Minnesota, he aspired to be a worthy opponent of David's athletic friends. It wasn't always pretty.
"When they're 10 and I'm 8, they're a little bigger, stronger and faster. I would always lose and just throw balls, yell at people and have to sit in a timeout and not be able to go outside for hours," Macura said. "Losing would just bother me."
It's that desire -- nay, need -- to win that has propelled the 6-foot-5, 203-pound Macura all the way to the starting rotation of the No. 7-ranked team in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.
Although the spunky guard with reddish hair doesn't have an intimidating presence at first blush (a Minnesota radio host once said he looked like a choir boy), it's a deceptive assessment. His hustle is evident in his floor burns, and his mettle is reflected in last year's Sixth Man Award in the Big East Conference.
Macura is feisty. Confident. Scrappy.
His energy-infusing play was just as crucial to Xavier last year as his 9.4 points per game and 47 percent shooting.
So here he is, eager for an even better season than last year's 28-6 (14-4 Big East) record-setting team. The way Macura sees it, there's no point in competing if defeats are acceptable outcomes.
He's a lot like head coach Chris Mack, Xavier forward Sean O'Mara said.
They're into whatever they're going to do 100 percent," O'Mara said. "As far as J.P., he really doesn't take no for an answer. He does things the way that they need to be done, however he has to get them done."
A study in fearlessness
It didn't take Paul Macura long to know that his son Jonathan Paul was a bit of a mischief-maker.
J.P. was just a toddler when he scaled the outer rungs of the staircase in the family home, climbed to the height of a nearby grandfather clock, leapt on top and declared himself Superman.
"He also was the kid who, at age 11, donned his boots and headed outside with a shoebox to "do a project." Paul and Sue Ann Macura later learned that J.P. had knocked on neighborhood doors to raise $500 for a family whose father had died suddenly.
J.P.'s attention eventually shifted to basketball. And that, besides his family (which includes his younger sister, Kari Anna), is a common thread in his life.
"Ever since he could start playing, he has loved basketball. Somehow, some way. We're not really a basketball family," said Paul Macura, who excelled at football and baseball.
But J.P. couldn't get enough. He diligently shoveled snow from outdoor sport courts, knowing he'd only be able to play ball until the flakes fell again. He spent hours watching adult rec basketball games at Life Time Fitness, awaiting the moment they'd finally let him sub in.
By the time he hit his growth spurt in 2012, Macura was a popular student with remarkable basketball talent. Although he played only two years of varsity at Lakeville North High, he became the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,811 points.
He scored 1,030 of those points his senior year alone.
Xavier was among 31 colleges that aspired to add Macura to their rosters. He visited 18 of those universities and ultimately was swayed by the Musketeers' coaches, the basketball program's high level and the opportunity to play with those who could make him better.
His own person
About a year ago, when Xavier traveled to Florida for the AdvoCare Invitational, players and coaches broke up the time with a visit to an alligator farm.
The attraction featured everything from pint-sized gators to enormous reptiles. Some of the Musketeers played it cool, keeping their distance and wits about them.
Not Macura and O'Mara.
"Me and J.P., we were right there on the edge, trying to hand feed them. We kind of had to be careful with him," O'Mara said of Macura, laughing. "He's crazy."
Other off-court activities show dimensions of Macura, like the September day he and nearly 300 Xavier athletes, coaches and families participated in the Buddy Walk benefiting the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati.
A photographer gathered the XU participants. Most posed with their forearms crossed in the signature Xavier "X." And there was Macura, perched in the top row, stretching his arms high as if he were cheering on his beloved Golden State Warriors.
"I was just excited to be there," Macura said, smiling. "The thing is, they took 10 pictures and the only one I had my hands up, they used (with an online story). I had an X in the other ones."
O'Mara said that's the truth. He saw Macura making the X.
That didn't make headlines, but the legal trouble Macura encountered last spring did. He pleaded guilty in Hamilton County Municipal Court to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing official business for pulling down his pants in an Oakley bar and using a fake ID.
Asked what inspired the pants episode, Macura said he didn't know. He called it "spur of the moment" and "dumb," and said it didn't take long to realize the mess he'd caused for himself, his family and the university.
"I got in trouble and got arrested and had to do quite a few things, like diversion and community service," Macura said.
"I took it as a learning experience. I used it to definitely help me, as bad as it seemed, to become a better person. I just realized that everybody makes a mistake once in a while and I kind of had to live with it and move on."
In addition to the wrath of his parents, Macura faced repercussions within the basketball program. He said he went through a week of punishment in which he had to awaken early and run, although he did not elaborate on other specifics.
That is behind him now, he said. The season is ahead.
Victories in view
Two minutes and 41 seconds into Xavier's Nov. 5 exhibition game against Division II Ferris State, Macura was exactly where he didn't want to be: Sitting on the bench with two fouls.
Think that slowed him down?
Not a chance.
He utilized his usual aggressiveness when he picked up his third foul -- and his fourth -- later in the outing. While others in his situation might have played more conservatively to avoid fouling out, No. 55 did not alter his routine in his 20 minutes on the court.
Macura finished with a team-third 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including a 3-of-3 mark from the perimeter, in Xavier's 80-56 rout.
"I think he'll always be a guy that offensively is capable of breaking open games," Mack said. "He's going to be the first to dive on the floor. He's going to be the first to make that outrageous offensive rebound where he's falling out of bounds. He has a way of disrupting and making things happen for your team."
Macura took his skills overseas in August and played five games with a Global Sports Academy select team in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. A great deal of his offseason was devoted to fine-tuning his game, so he's elated for the return of the regular season and the potential to pile on victories.
Xavier's first opportunity is at 7 p.m. Friday in an opener against Lehigh at Cintas Center.
"I'm just excited to play with the guys again, because it's been a little while since we've played in games," Macura said. "I'm excited to win games and have fun."