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Column: The next best Marquette point guard

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

When Dominic James committed to Tom Crean and Marquette in 2005, expectations went through the roof. The runner-up to Luke Zeller for Mr. Indiana that year, the high school senior James averaged 31.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists at Richmond, helping his school to the sectional final.

As the No. 36 recruit (RSCI) and sixth-ranked point guard in his class, the hope was James’ arrival in Milwaukee–along with Jerel McNeal (No. 57) and Wesley Matthews (No. 61)–would reinvigorate the Marquette brand post-Wade. He did just that, averaging 15.3 points and being named the Big East Rookie of the Year. His 473 points were the most since Doc Rivers’ 1980-81 mark and it set into motion a highly successful career running the point. His four teams went 94-40 and, had it not been for a broken foot late in his senior season, a Final Four berth very well could have been in his cards.

James was never able to match his freshman season and, given that historic season, his individual numbers and lack of NCAA Tournament success the next three years diluted his Marquette career some. But make no mistake, James was an elite point guard who accomplished plenty for Crean and Buzz Williams.

But ever since James graduated in 2009, the point guard position has been more of a stop-gap than anything. James followed in the footsteps of a few standouts before him, including Cordell Henry and Travis Diener. In those seasons the point-guard position was more or less the foundation of the roster, but has since seen a slight drop-off.

Mo Acker played well, statistically, as a senior, playing more off what Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler accomplished; Dwight Buycks played the position more out necessity and wasn’t all that efficient in his role; Junior Cadougan surely won Marquette a handful of games during his roller coaster of a career, yet he’ll be remembered more for his quiet NCAA Tournament games than anything.

The Marquette point guard position has been lacking a true star ever since James graduated, but there’s real reason to believe that’s about to change with the arrival of Duane Wilson.

[RELATED: Duane Wilson preparing hard for Marquette]

Expectations for the 6-foot-3 Wilson are high, but the fellow freshmen in his class–Jajuan Johnson and Deonte Burton are rated higher than him on RSCI–have tempered his outlook. Much like James, who dealt with a pair of highly-touted newcomers when he arrived, however, will help Wilson’s play both in the immediate and future. Marquette is coming off a pair of Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight berth, so Wilson won’t be injecting any new life into the program like James did. But Wilson’s skill set and ability to play from Day 1 are going to put him in the same category as a Tony Miller, Diener or James. That’s high praise for anyone, but Wilson deserves it.

The two-time state title winner spent last offseason with some of the top high school players in the country, watched Team USA practice in Las Vegas–he went to dinner with LeBron James–and got to pick Deron Williams’ brain at the Nets point guard’s skills camp in Chicago.

Duane Wilson is ready to star at Marquette. (WBBY.com)

Duane Wilson is ready to star at Marquette. (WBBY.com)

This offseason he’s putting up 1,000 shots a day, working out twice a week and continuing to watch as much film–on NBA point guards and Marquette games–as he can in preparation for his freshman season. Playing alongside five-star Marquette target Diamond Stone, Wilson averaged 24.8 points and 5.3 assists as a senior, improving his conditioning, defense and left hand in the process. He’s as ready a freshman point guard as Marquette has had, maybe ever.

That will serve him well when he takes the floor this summer. Cadougan is gone, leaving only Derrick Wilson as a point guard with experience on the roster. Fellow incoming freshman John Dawson could push for playing time, but he’s more of a project than anything at this point. Playing time is available, even if the Wilson duo split time in a similar Davante Gardner/Chris Otule offense-for-defense swap. The freshman Wilson will see minutes right away, and he’s going to star.

Wilson already has the makings of a scorer, shooting a blistering 55 percent from beyond the arc and excelling in transition. Marquette will rely on its interior to provide the brunt of the scoring, and that may open up more outside looks and driving opportunities for Wilson at the top of the key.

[RELATED: Busy summer prepares Wilson for primetime]

And maybe more important than anything he did at Dominican H.S. or the Hall of Famers he spoke with the last two offseasons, Wilson’s swagger is the biggest tip-off that he’ll succeed. Part of what made previous freshmen Gardner and Todd Mayo so efficient in Year 1 was their lack of happy feet and being overwhelmed. It’s the one thing that can’t be taught, and from the few times Andrei saw Wilson play, he showed just that. It’s one thing to do it at an AAU Tournament where you’re the best player by a longshot, but even at the NBPA Top-100 camp last season, Wilson wowed a handful of national experts. Wilson is confident, borderline cocky, and it’s warranted.

Paint Touches’ own dubbed YouTube Theory makes high-ranked freshmen the talk of any beat, message board or blog. And with someone as talented as Wilson, unfair expectations can be made all the more easily. But this is more than just a hunch or some deep-seeded analysis off a few highlight reels and a couple games watched. The stage is officially set for Wilson to become a high-major player and return the Marquette point guard position to one of stardom. I’ve spoken with him a dozen times, watched him play, and coaches have nothing but high praise for him.

Given Marquette’s stretch of success, it’s inaccurate to call Acker, Buycks and Cadougan inefficient or lackluster players, but it’s time for the program’s court general to become the face of it.

Cautiously, Duane Wilson is that guy.

The Golden Eagles have their next Dominic James.

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Categories: Columns, Home, Offseason

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