I ran into a friend last weekend who doubles as a college basketball enthusiast, and he wanted to know about Marquette. I admitted I hadn’t been as on the beat in recent months as I would have liked, as the summer of Carmelo Anthony had taken up most of my time in Chicago and my free time was spent updating the latest on Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and some guy named LeBron. But with free agency nearly behind us and football season on the horizon, it’s time to focus on Marquette. It’s been more than a month since my last post, but it’s time to get back into the swing of things. We’ve flipped on the Paint Touches switch. Whether that makes you glad or sad, it’s coming.
So, here’s what I told my friend: Steve Wojciechowski is 1-0.
When Wojciechowski stood in front of members of the media and a few hundred Marquette fans and accepted the role as head men’s basketball coach, there was trouble brewing in the locker room. Steve Taylor was speaking with different schools about a transfer, essentially with his bags packed and locker empty. Jajuan Johnson, who had picked Marquette after a late surge from Isaac Chew on the recruiting front, watched that same assistant follow Buzz Williams to Blacksburg in a matter of days. An entire recruiting class had opted out of their respective commitments and Wojciechowski was staring at the smallest roster in the Big East that had just lost its top two players, best interior defender and only real outside threat.
Williams had his reasons for leaving Milwaukee, and the returning roster and potential upheaval didn’t make it any easier to consider staying. A 17-win season with as many postseason victories as DePaul gave every player, from Derrick Wilson to Duane Wilson, reason to leave. Wojciechowski was a stellar hire to the outside world — Coach K’s right-hand man the last decade, who had the likes of Kobe Bryant and Marquette alum Dwyane Wade on speed dial, was a major splash in the coaching circle — but to a bunch of 20- and 21-year-old kids, he was a new face with no head-coaching experience who publicly was Marquette’s second choice after the #DoneDeal debacle (and, yes, they paid as much attention to the search as you did; for 5 hours Derrick Wilson believed his head coach was Shaka Smart).
But Wojciechowski did something that went unnoticed by many. The first time he walked into the Marquette locker room, with nine young men confused about their futures standing inside it, he gave each player a hug. He told them how excited he was to work with them and turn a shit-show of a season, the program’s worst in more than a decade, around.
“My priority is to work on the relationships that they have here. I want the players to trust me,” he said at his introductory press conference. “And I think trust is built by telling the truth and doing your best every day. And that was my promise to them: that I will always tell them the truth, that they will get my best every day. And the deal is I will expect them to give me their best. And if we can do that one simple thing, then some really special things can happen for all of us.”
No one left.
Tennessee lost three players after Cuonzo Martin bolted. Four players, including talented sophomore Trevor Thompson, headed elsewhere from Virginia Tech after Williams was hired. California saw two players leave, and Missouri lost three after Frank Haith was fired. Even Wake Forest lost a player after a dismal 17-16 campaign under Jeff Bzdelik.
But Taylor chuckled as he watched highlights of Wojciechowski slapping the floor in his Duke uniform. Johnson confidently shook Wojciechowski’s hand and, after a talk with his mother, bought in. Todd Mayo admitted that “change was needed” and couldn’t wait to earn his new head coach’s trust. Juan Anderson, who asked for his release a year ago, smiled and noted he loved the style Wojciechowski wanted to play at Marquette.
True, incoming players Ahmed Hill and Satchel Pierce followed Williams and Chew to Virginia Tech, Malek Harris landed at Kansas State and Marial Shayok opted for Virginia. Wojciechowski combated that expected turnover by bringing in BYU graduate Matt Carlino, re-confirmed Sandy Cohen’s commitment and brought in transfers Gabe Levin and Wally Ellenson to round out a roster of 13 that is likely set in stone. He even secured a 2015 commitment from Matt Heldt with the help of re-affirmed Nick Noskowiak, and a commitment from five-star big man Henry Ellenson could be around the corner.
But the current roster already has won Wojciechowski his first test at Marquette. Just as important as those players buying into Wojciechowski, he bought into them. For the first time in the post-Tom Crean era, Marquette did not have a transfer during the offseason. That says something about everyone involved, and that trust Wojciechowski spoke of at his first presser is forming at a rapid pace. Sure, there are more questions than answers surrounding the current team, as well as one player taller than 6-foot-7 and a pair of failed recruiting classes Wojciechowski now must reassemble and maneuver in order to salvage his first season on the job.
But there will be time to figure all that out. In three short months we’ll know whether Todd Mayo is Vander Blue 2.0 or a rich man’s Jamal Ferguson. We’ll know if Matt Carlino’s 3-point shooting makes Derrick Wilson obsolete, or if three seasons of valiant defensive work holds merit to Wojciechowski and shifts Carlino off the ball. We’ll get to unwrap the Luke Fischer and Duane Wilson parting gifts Williams handed Marquette before leaving, and Deonte Burton will defy gravity and piss our followers off as we continue to use and abuse the #BANE nickname.
For now, Wojciechowski has won. He’s assembled a decorated coaching staff, brought back a legend in Travis Diener and is on the verge of securing the five-star big Williams never could. Marquette basketball was ready to explode in late March, and in mid-July it’s as calm as it’s been in years.
Wojciechowski wanted trust in the summer and wins in the fall.