It’s difficult to argue one way or another whether Junior Cadougan made the smart decision in 2010 when, just four months removed from surgery to repair an Achilles injury in his left foot, he returned to the Golden Eagles lineup for the last 16 games of his short-lived freshman season.
The decision was his to make: he earned a scholarship from Buzz Williams to participate in practices and games when healthy, something he did through strenuous daily workouts with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith while watching from the sidelines as his teammates struggled to an 11-7 season without him.
So after that practice, so accurately described to Paint Touches by former assistant Aki Collins, when Cadougan chased down and blocked Maurice Acker on back-to-back possessions, he spoke with his mother and former AAU coach about putting on the Blue & Gold for the first time, thus essentially ending the possibility of a medical redshirt.
He played 48 minutes that season. He scored four points (all on free throws), committed three turnovers and had one more personal foul (five) than assists (four). By all accounts, Cadougan’s freshman season was a failure. True, his participation in practice, his remarkable commitment to work his way back to the court and his depth at point guard helped Marquette in some intangible fashion. But for a player ranked in the top 60 of the 2009 recruiting class, and someone who turned out to be a viable starter by his senior year, he wasted his freshman season.
Duane Wilson shouldn’t make that same decision.
Let’s backtrack for a moment. Cadougan graduated on time, had himself three fully healthy seasons under Williams and is currently being paid to play professional basketball. For that, he accomplished everything a collegiate student-athlete could ask for, and for a player as genuine and kind-spirited as him, it’s difficult to say that he was “wrong” for getting himself healthy and playing in his freshman season.
In a way, playing for yourself sometimes isn’t enough. That’s not to say that Cadougan was acting selfishly or is selfish by nature (ask anyone in the Marquette community; he’s not). What it says is that he may not have been considering long-term options, which, again, is difficult for a 19-year-old kid who wants to get back on the court and play college basketball for the first time.
Wilson finds himself in an eerily similar situation. The freshman suffered a stress fracture in his left leg during preseason workouts and is expected to miss the rest of the non-conference season. Buzz Williams told reporters Thursday that Wilson has been cleared to practice and is doing between 12 and 17 minutes worth of work. Williams said that the freshman has “passed” each “litmus test” in his rehabilitation process, and that he isn’t able to say if the bone has completely healed.
Williams also noted that redshirting the freshman is an option, something Paint Touches reported shortly after news broke of Wilson’s original injury. Williams said that the decision on forfeiting his freshman season will be largely left up to Wilson, leaving him in a similar situation to the one Cadougan faced.
One difference is that Wilson is in a position where he may actually see playing time. Cadougan was stuck behind Acker, a senior, and junior Dwight Buycks. Even senior David Cubillan had seen time at the point. Though Cadougan was actually expected to be the team’s starting point guard pre-injury, his return came too late for his conditioning, game speed and knowledge of Williams’ philosophies to earn him minutes.
Pre-injury, Wilson was expected to be a contributor at both guard positions behind starting point guard Derrick Wilson and shooting guards Jake Thomas and Todd Mayo. If he returns for the Golden Eagles’ Big East opener against Creighton on New Year’s Eve, he will have missed 13 games and nearly two months. Even the best recruit in the country would struggle under such circumstances, let alone a player expected to run Marquette’s offense at times AND play off the ball. Odds are Wilson’s freshman season would be “lost,” like Cadougan’s.
Consider if Junior Cadougan had redshirted his freshman season. He’d currently be a fifth-year starter, running the point for Williams while playing 30+ minutes per game. It’s safe to say Marquette would be better off this season than they would have been worse off had Cadougan missed his freshman season (does that make sense?)
Wilson’s decision on whether or not to return will be his own, as it should be. Other coaches may make these kinds of decisions for players; Williams isn’t like other coaches in this sense. And like Cadougan, it’d be difficult to say Wilson made the “wrong” decision if he is healthy and decides he’d like to make his wish of playing Division I basketball come true a few months early.
But for the “good of the team” — an ugly cliche that makes it wrongly sound like Wilson would be acting selfishly — Marquette would be better off if Wilson calls the year off, pending he’s unable to play until Big East season.
A redshirted Wilson would be a senior in 2017-18, same as Sandy Cohen and a year ahead of will-be junior Nick Noskowiak. With John Dawson essentially a year “ahead” of Wilson, it would give Marquette a senior in every year but 2015-16 (Derrick Wilson in ’14; John Dawson in ’16; Duane Wilson in ’17). That’s looking a bit too far ahead and there’s nothing to say that having a senior point guard means anything more than not having one, but it’s simply another reason for Wilson to stay on board if you need one.
Duane Wilson should enjoy a long and successful career at Marquette. If he decides to play this season, it will be the right call because it’s the one he made. But based on history and the current state of the team, his freshman season is likely to be a non-factor if he returns and is unable to make a real impact.