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Heroic freshman season will define Cadougan

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

Junior Cadougan likely will be remembered for his buzzer-beating heroics earlier this year against Connecticut, which eventually became the difference in Marquette clinching a share of the Big East title for the first time.

But now that Cadougan’s collegiate career has ended, a reflection on his marvelous four-year career reveals that his most impressive season in a Marquette uniform was actually the one in which his numbers were the worst.

In 2009, after choosing Marquette over Louisville–the Cardinals later received a commit from some guy named Peyton Siva–the scouting report on Cadougan, the 10th ranked point guard in the class, began with his 220-pound frame. He was heavier than the nine court generals ahead of him in the rankings and weighed as much or more than 34 forwards and centers ranked higher than his No. 76 standing.

He admitted at his Senior Day last month that he arrived “out of shape,” and heavy doses of strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith’s rigorous workouts were going to be required before he could be considered a threat to Maurice Acker to start at the point.

His eligibility was postponed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, which forced him to miss summer school and workouts. But early reports out to the Al McGuire Center were that Cadougan, Buzz Williams’ first four-star recruit, looked good in practice, had worked hard to cut weight and had a serious chance to take over for outgoing four-year starter, Dominic James.

Then Sept. 18 happened.

Cadougan was running a normal sprint when he heard a pop in his right leg. The diagnosis was a torn Achilles’ heel. The early prognosis was a season-ending, potentially career-ending injury. So much for losing that weight. So much for starting as a freshman. So much for, perhaps, a promising career at Marquette.

Behind the scenes, however, head trainer Ernest Eugene and Williams gave hope to Cadougan, telling him there was a chance he could return at some point in the season. Cadougan, stuck in a boot for months and watching from the sidelines, had doubts. He didn’t know if he would ever be the same player again. At one point he admitted now knowing if he even wanted to play basketball anymore.

But that wasn’t going to be the end. Not for a kid who worked his tail off to avoid the dangerous streets of Toronto, who moved away from his family to play a nationally-ranked high school schedule and who fought so hard to earn a scholarship to make something of himself.

Cadougan rehabilitated his horrific injury every day, participated in as many individual workouts as he could–including working on his jump shot while sitting on a chair–and made significant process on a timetable much faster than the 10-to-12-month period most players need.

Just four months after the injury occurred, Cadougan was back in practice. No one on the coaching staff thought much of the return, other than it being another body in practice to help the regulars to play against. Then something happened.

On two different occasions in his first practice back, Cadougan chased down Acker, the starter, on fast-breaks and pinned the shots against the backboard.

One practice later Cadougan was again showing off his skills, his explosiveness and his health to the coaching staff. Cadougan pleaded with the coaching staff to allow him to suit up. His mother called. His AAU coach called. Knowing what Cadougan had gone through and hearing the pleas from everyone in his camp, the staff couldn’t say no: Cadougan was going to play.

The box scores from his freshman season will show 12 games, 46 minutes, one point, four assists and three turnovers. He missed all nine of his field goal attempts and committed as many fouls (five) as he grabbed rebounds.

But his decision to find a way back to the court for his teammates, sacrificing a year of eligibility, in his words, to help get seniors Lazar Hayward, David Cubillan and Acker to the NCAA Tournament, can’t be measured in numbers.

“I didn’t come to Marquette to sit out,” he told Paint Touches last year. “And if I have the opportunity to play I’m going to play, no matter the circumstances. All that hard work built up, why not come back and have an opportunity to play? I wanted to experience it.”

Added then-assistant Aki Collins: “The kid absolutely wanted to do it for all the right reasons. It shows you the kind of kid he is.”

The numbers show Cadougan did little to help Marquette in those 12 games. He was hardly acknowledged down the stretch by anyone for the remarkable job he had done. Anyone, except Hayward.

At the Golden Eagles’ end-of-the-year banquet, Hayward, who averaged 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds that year, was given the “Everyday Tough” award. It was an obvious choice; the 6-foot-6 forward spent every game at power forward, knowing the only way Marquette was going to succeed was if Hayward showed toughness every day. And he did.

But the humble, ego-less Hayward knew someone else had shown that same toughness behind unfathomable odds. So when the senior took the microphone, he made an impromptu decision, calling up Cadougan, the little-used freshman who averaged 3.8 minutes in 12 games, to accept the award for him.

It was the ultimate sign of respect, and one that has carried Cadougan through his four-year career at Marquette. He had his ups. He had his downs. Everyone will have their own memory of some shot clock-beating layup, clutch 3-pointer or fast-break pass Cadougan made.

But with the book now closed on his collegiate career, here’s to hoping the sacrifice, struggle and triumph he endured his freshman year is never forgotten.

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