MU freshmen have different backgrounds, similar goals

One recruit had his name plastered on every top-100 rankings across the country, won three straight state championships at a powerhouse high school in the heart of Chicago and was tagged, at one point by lead recruiter Tony Benford, as the second coming of Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder.

The other recruit played with his two younger brothers in an area of Norfolk, Va., was recruited by Marquette, who found him by accident, and generally was considered outside of the top-100 while bowing out in the quarterfinals of his respective state tournament his senior year.

Steve Taylor Jr., the former described freshman, and Jamal Ferguson, the latter, make up Marquette’s 2012 recruiting class. And while they enter their respective first seasons with different backgrounds, both bring a skill set to Buzz Williams’ group that should make them building blocks going forward.

Taylor and Ferguson formed a friendship as soon as both arrived on campus, in part because they are roommates in the Carpenter Tower. Neither would admit who the dirty one is in the dormitory, and they have seen benefits of living together. They frequent the gym, go to classes and eat together and even said they both enjoy a few extra minutes of sleep before practice every morning because they’re closer to the Al McGuire Center than their fellow teammates.

Jamal Ferguson has worked this offseason on his jump shooting, which he’ll need to improve to see the court as a freshman. (Marquette Athletics)

“Since we first got here we connected a bond,” Ferguson added. “We’re very close right now.”

Taylor is the more heralded recruit and, being a 6-foot-8 switchable, gives him more of a chance at regular playing time in the rotation. But that’s not an issue for Ferguson, who has flown under the radar this summer and early fall.

“I don’t have as much pressure on me,” Ferguson said. “I can just come in and do my thing, just feel my game and I don’t have any worries.”

Ferguson has spent much of his time this offseason improving his perimeter game. When former assistant coach Aki Collins found Ferguson, he originally was recruiting Davante Gardner, also a Norfolk native. Ferguson did have concerns when Collins bolted for Memphis, noteworthy considering he looked into Georgetown late in his recruitment after committing to Marquette.

“I talked to Aki more, and it did hurt me when he left,” Ferguson said, “but I knew Buzz had me, so everything was good.”

Collins described Ferguson as an athletic slasher who got after it defensively, but it will be hard to cut the rotation off the bench his freshman season without an outside game, Marquette’s main weakness post-DJO and Jae Crowder.

I really have worked on my jump shot,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been in the gym and I can keep working on it.”

That being said, Buzz Williams’ motto for freshmen has always been if he can defend, he’ll play. That will help Ferguson, assuming his jump shot is improved.

Ferguson played a combined 19 minutes in Marquette’s two open scrimmages, less than half of the 44 minutes Taylor has played.

The Simeon product is Big East-ready, and those who have watched practice say he is already part of the team’s rotation.

But Taylor was quick to deny the notion that coming from Simeon, one of the top basketball schools in the country, made anything easier for him the past four months since he arrived on campus.

Steve Taylor has big expectations, and he looks ready to fulfill them in his freshman season. (Marquette Athletics)

“I think it helped me because Simeon worked hard, so when I got here to Marquette it was second nature,” Taylor said. “But you have to work hard to get what you want. Once I got here, I realized that high school practices were nothing like this.”

To ready himself for the Big East rigors he faces as a likely member of the immediate rotation, Taylor studied those he will be replacing, notably Jae Crowder and Lazar Hayward.

“I’ve been watching film all the time,” he said. “When I watch film all I do is picture myself, and picture me going in there.”

Former switchables Hayward and Crowder became decorated 3-point shooters by their respective senior seasons. And while Taylor was featured on the perimeter at Simeon, the 230-pound forward said he’s more comfortable inside.

He has already gained 15 pounds since arriving on campus, working with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith and battling inside with healthy centers Chris Otule and Davante Gardner.

“I know I improved there a lot, I’ve gotten a lot tougher, and I’ve gotten stronger. I’m able to finish around the rim a little more,” Taylor said. “In high school I’m used to being the big guy on the floor.”

Ferguson and Taylor come from different backgrounds, have different expectations and will produce in different roles.

But the freshman duo has formed a relationship together that should help each as they prepare for Year 1 under Buzz Williams and Marquette.

“We’re in this together,” Taylor said.

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