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Wilson transforming into a trusted leader

Buzz Williams' trust in Derrick Wilson is improving. (USA Today)

Buzz Williams’ trust in Derrick Wilson is growing. (USA Today)

Derrick Wilson doesn’t need to average 15 points per game this season. He doesn’t have to earn All-Big East accolades by season’s end or find himself on the Bob Cousy Award watch list in December. Part of what makes the 6-foot junior point guard so special is that numbers won’t always do his performance justice.

But Derrick Wilson needs to change, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that.

The running back-turned-court general has played his role as a reserve as well as anyone on Marquette’s roster, and he was a major reason why Marquette ranked in the top-50 in defensive efficiency each of the last two seasons. He takes care of the ball — he turned the ball over just four times in his final 158 minutes last year — and his 0.71 points per possession-against was tops among Marquette guards a year ago.

With Junior Cadougan’s 28 minutes per game out of the picture, however, he’s no longer just that player. His coaches, specifically assistant Brad Autry, have reiterated how important he’ll be as the team’s starting point guard, and that he’ll need to increase his role while coming close to maintaining his elite efficiency.

“One thing I have to do better is take chances,” he told Paint Touches at Friday’s media day. “I think I have to shoot more because as far as the scouting report for different teams, if you look at the numbers and the film, (opponents) are like, ‘this guy’s not a scorer, so sag off him.’ So in order to get everybody else opportunities and to get the offense flowing, I think I do have to attack a little bit more.”

It’d be near impossible for Wilson to attack less than he has the past two years. In 779 career minutes Wilson has attempted 71 field goals and gone to the line 37 times. Granted, his role as a defensive stopper and facilitator didn’t warrant aggressiveness toward the basket, but his 1.1 points per game from a year ago simply won’t cut it this year.

Wilson admitted that a year ago he was timid on the offensive end because he was afraid to make mistakes. As a second-line player, possessions became more valuable and playing behind turnover-prone Cadougan, his value was based on how efficient he could be in limited minutes.

[RELATED — The art of passing: Derrick Wilson]

That’s not the case this year. Marquette’s biggest question mark in 2013-14 will be how Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles replace Cadougan. And as irony would have it, Cadougan may be just the player who provides the answer.

When Wilson arrived in Milwaukee two years ago it was Cadougan who took the bulky yet inexperienced freshman under his wing, showing him what he needed to do to be successful in Williams’ offense. Though Cadougan is gone, the pair still stay in contact from time-to-time, including once a week during the summer while Cadougan was competing in Las Vegas with the Milwaukee Bucks’ Summer League team.

“I’ve learned a lot from him over the past couple of years, and I had him to guide me,” Wilson said. “So I know a lot because of him, and I think just talking to him really helps me because he’s been through everything.”

The same sentiments that Autry and the coaching staff are trying to instill in Wilson are the same ones Cadougan taught him.

Wilson said he knows he needs to be more aggressive as a starter. (USA Today)

Wilson knows he needs to be more aggressive as a starter. (USA Today)

“(Cadougan) taught me to be a little bit more reckless, not to be so much ‘this goes this way; that goes that way, so organized.’ And I think by taking a chance, shooting a shot — I’ve worked on it so much, why not shoot it? Why just keep passing? If you’re gonna work on shooting all the time and you keep passing, it doesn’t make much sense,” Wilson said. “I think sometimes I’ve got to let loose and just play my game.”

Wilson backtracked on his definition of Cadougan’s lessons as playing “reckless,” knowing that his efficiency must remain and that Williams won’t let him get too off-track — he described his transformation as “balancing the line” between aggressiveness and playing smart. But at times Wilson knew he almost seemed robotic in the way he played within the offense, rarely taking chances or showing off the athleticism, strength and speed that made him a Division I running-back prospect in high school and top-100 basketball prospect that garnered plenty of attention on the recruiting trail.

[RELATED: Derrick Wilson player breakdown]

Shooting more and finding the lane does not constitute an overhaul in his skill set, and it doesn’t force him to do something he’s not comfortable doing. Rather, Wilson wants to expand his game in the sense of doing what he knows he’s capable of, but wasn’t needed to do the last two years.

“I think it’s important that he expands on what he did last year,” assistant Isaac Chew said. “Obviously the ball will be in his hands right away. I think he’s ready, but he doesn’t need to do anything drastic; just be more consistent in the time that he’s given.

“I think he’ll be an unbelievable defensively. I think he’ll be one of the best rebounding guards in the country, I think he’ll play at a different kind of pace. He just needs to make plays when it’s needed for him to make plays, be it scoring, be it the right pass, be it a hockey assist. Just making sure he manages our team in the right way.”

Chew’s comment — that Wilson manages the team while looking to improve on his individual skills — is the most important part of the point guard’s progression. Wilson can play well and put up numbers in the box score, but if he doesn’t have the trust of his head coach it may mean negative results in the win/loss column.

“I told Derrick this morning in front of our team that my confidence is growing in him, I like him,” Williams said. “And I know that doesn’t matter to you, but it matters a lot to me. I want to like the guy who’s the lead guard, who’s out there solo by himself a lot. And I want to trust him.”

That’s the sole reason Williams stuck with Cadougan during the non-conference portion of last year’s schedule, even when he admitted publicly and told Wilson privately that Wilson was playing better and likely deserved to start over the senior Cadougan. And that’s the same reason why Wilson is locked in as the starter over talented freshman point guard Duane Wilson, who Williams said “has a long way to go” and hasn’t yet earned the same kind of trust he has with Derrick Wilson.

Trust is earned with Williams, and Wilson didn’t automatically receive it just because he was originally penciled in as the de facto starter. Williams needed to see it during individual workouts, in boot camp and off the court, when Wilson took freshmen Duane Wilson and John Dawson under his wing in the same fashion Cadougan did with him. That’s been a natural progression, but it isn’t completed in October and may not be done in January, either.

“The whole thing happened so fast. I feel like I’m old now,” he said. “I’ve realized it, but I don’t think I’ve fully grasped it yet. I think it’s really cool just to teach what I’ve been taught. A lot of it comes naturally, because at the end of the day we need everybody to win games. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or who’s not; at the end of the day that goes out the window if you’re not winning games.”

Williams admitted that Wilson won’t be the player Cadougan was, both in a positive and negative sense. A point guard who won 97 games in his career and was the starting point guard on a Sweet 16 and Elite 8 team isn’t replaced simply because a new man has stepped into that role, albeit on a talented team destined for another NCAA Tournament appearance. But Williams is getting there with Wilson, and he’s seeing that change happen on the fly for a player who also knows he needs to be different in an expanded role.

“(Wilson’s) confidence, my confidence and, maybe more importantly our team’s confidence having the ball in Derrick’s hands is going to be a process,” Williams said, “but I like how it’s going.”

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