This story was published in the Jan. 24 edition of The Marquette Tribune.
During Buzz Williams’ four years as Marquette’s head coach, only one freshman has averaged more than nine minutes per game in more than nine games.
This year one freshman, guard Todd Mayo, is on pace to add his name to that list, averaging 22.1 minutes per game through 20 contests.
But the other two freshmen, forward Juan Anderson and point guard Derrick Wilson, find themselves buried at the end of the bench through seven Big East contests, each averaging under 5.3 minutes per game.
It wasn’t always that way for Wilson.
He averaged 14.0 minutes per game through the first six contests of the year and started in Marquette’s biggest non-conference game, a road victory at Wisconsin in which he played 20 minutes in relief of suspended junior guard Junior Cadougan.
Yet over the previous six contests Wilson has averaged 2.8 minutes per game as Williams has moved to, for the most part, a seven-man rotation.
“It’s really not anything Derrick’s done,” assistant coach Aki Collins said. “We play (Vander Blue) at the point guard a little bit. Now Derrick’s starting to see a little bit more minutes. It’s the ebb and flow of our season and being a young kid. sometimes you get major minutes and sometimes you don’t. But he’s been ready to play.”
Wilson said he’s been told by coaches to “just play your game, play strong defense and do what you do” whenever he gets an opportunity on the floor, like he did against Louisville when he recorded a steal in his first minute on the floor.
As both Wilson and Anderson struggle to find consistent minutes on the floor, Wilson won’t let himself hit the freshman wall.
“I’ve heard of (the freshman wall) but I feel like I’ve been getting better,” Wilson said. “Even though I’m not playing as much I feel like I’m playing better, and I think when I get out there I can produce but I believe in a freshman wall if you let yourself hit the freshman.”
The struggle isn’t lost on their teammates, some whom have struggled for minutes themselves whether at Marquette or at another basketball institution.
“When you hear it from your teammates it means a lot more,” Anderson said. “After the Syracuse game, Jae (Crowder) said he felt really comfortable with me out there, and that I knew what I was doing. So that makes me feel good hearing it from the leader. So that was big.”
Anderson put himself at a disadvantage before the season started by accepting tickets to a Brewers postseason game, which earned him a three-game suspension, followed by a shoulder injury announced on Dec. 9 that forced him out of three games.
“I kind of am playing catch up. I had those injuries early in the season, so I’m just staying optimistic,” Anderson said. “I’m not overzealous about anything or worried about anything. My time will come. Just keep going hard and practice every day.”
His focus is on contributing quality minutes off the bench when foul trouble strikes.
“I play wherever coach Buzz needs me, and some games he may not need me. Whenever Jae or Jamil (Wilson) or whoever is in foul trouble, I just try to come in and contribute and just play hard,” Anderson said.
Collins said Anderson would maybe see a minute or two more per game if not for the suspension and injuries.
“It’s just the depth of our team. We’re fortunate to have a deep team so talented guys have to work their way into the lineup,” Collins said, “but a credit to those guys (Anderson and Wilson). They have stepped up when called upon. So the future looks bright for those guys. They just have to keep working.”