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How will we remember Jamil Wilson?

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/Paint Touches

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/Paint Touches

Jamil Wilson was something of an urban legend before he ever put on a Marquette uniform. Those fortunate enough to watch the 6-foot-7 sophomore in practice in 2010-11 said he was the team’s most gifted athlete, scoring inside, hitting perimeter shots while defending at the rim with pure athleticism not seen in quite some time. That’s not overdoing it, either; there was so much hype around Wilson that it was a matter of how good he was going to be, not if he was actually going to produce after one season at Oregon in which he he averaged 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds.

So who, exactly, was Wilson supposedly performing better than in these practices? Well, that would be future all-Big East first team member Darius Johnson-Odom, Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, who’s currently averaging 12.9 points and 5.0 rebounds for the Chicago Bulls. In fact, there were five future NBA players on that team, in those practices, in which Wilson was apparently dominating. No pressure, kid. No pressure at all.

Buzz Williams also added fuel to the hype fire, noting that Wilson was the most athletic player he had ever recruited and that the player who had played just 26 career games had a chance to go down as one of the Golden Eagles’ all-time greats. Yes, it was simply coach-speak — or, more accurately, Buzz-speak — but it seemed to fall in line with the thought that Marquette had something special in Wilson. Just one month after he committed he took part in the Milwaukee Pro-Am and, my goodness, did he ever look good (watch the first 74 seconds of this video and then wipe the drool off your mouth before continuing).

Wilson was a legend before the ever took the floor at Marquette. A top-30 recruit in high school, he was a smoother Jimmy Butler; he was Jae Crowder with length; he was Wesley Matthews with three more inches; he was the absolute definition of a “switchable,” the phrase Williams coined early in his tenure at Marquette regarding pure athletes able to defend multiple positions with an inside-out game on the offensive end.

So off he went, into his redshirt sophomore season, with expectations that almost made fans forget about the conjecture they had heaped on Vander Blue that same summer. Wilson played his role well in the early going before being forced into action as a makeshift center when Chris Otule and Davante Gardner each suffered knee injuries. He played that role impeccably, averaging 10.1 points on 51 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds in eight games without Gardner — he also blocked a shot in seven of those, and added a steal in six — while helping Marquette to a 6-2 record and push them into the “lock” category on the NCAA tournament bubble.

He went off for 18 points and 10 rebounds against DePaul, added 15 more in a blowout win over Cincinnati and was nearly as important as Crowder in the Golden Eagles’ famous 61-60 win in Morgantown, W. Va.

That season he deferred to Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, and Johnson-Odom, the conference’s second-leading scorer, while also playing fourth, even fifth, fiddle on offense to Gardner and at times Todd Mayo. He was as important to the Golden Eagles’ season as anyone but those two, and it appeared as though he, like so many talented underclassmen before him, was biding his time until he became “the guy.”

As a junior he progressed, filling in as Blue’s and Gardner’s sidekick, depending on which player took over on a given night, averaging 9.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and a 3-pointer per game on 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

He peaked at the right time, too, averaging in Marquette’s last eight games before the Elite Eight debacle 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, just a shade below Blue’s 15.1 points in the same stretch. He had a number of memorable performances down the stretch, perhaps none more important than his 16-point performance against Miami in the Elite Eight. His pair of 3-pointers late in the first half pushed Marquette’s lead out to 22-10, and his last triple gave the Golden Eagles a game-high 18-point lead 5 minutes out of halftime that put the game out of reach.

That game is what we’ll remember most about Wilson, because…

…his senior season was, to put it lightly, a mixed bag based on expectations.

On numbers alone he improved in points, rebounds and assists, and he was dominant in a couple non-conference games (Cal-State Fullerton, Wisconsin, IUPUI). But seven different times he scored five or fewer points, never seemed to want the ball in his hands down the stretch and, as we wrote earlier in the year, wasn’t the “heart and soul” a team without a true leader required when the going got tough — and it got tough quite often.

There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his senior season, when in a five-game stretch in early February he averaged 17.2 points on 48 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds during Marquette’s 4-1 run. But in his final five games, he averaged just 8.2 points on an ugly 26 percent shooting while the Golden Eagles reversed their record, going 1-4 to miss out on both the NCAA tournament and NIT. No one person can be blamed for Marquette’s misfortunes this season, but he was the one player with the talent and experience to reverse them and it never happened.

Even worse, the last two shots he took in a Marquette uniform were missed free throws that would have pulled his team within one point in the final minute against Xavier. Instead, both shots rimmed out and the Musketeers finished the game with seven free throws in the final 49 seconds to end the game, Marquette’s season and Wilson’s NCAA career.

So how do we remember Wilson? Obviously he never panned out as the mythical practice player dominating future NBA players, and for a long time he was good, not great, while playing significant roles in Marquette’s 53 wins his sophomore and junior years. That player was crucial to Marquette’s successes, and it’s likely the Golden Eagles don’t hoist the Big East Championship trophy or play into the weekend of the NCAA tournament’s second weekend without Wilson’s versatility, rebounding and defense when it needed it most.

In reality, Wilson was a role player his senior season. On dozens of other teams, that would have been enough. Considering his output was similar to that of his junior season, when Marquette was within 40 minutes of a fourth Final Four, it’s difficult to say Wilson’s senior year was a bad one.

Perhaps Marquette was spoiled, believing that because of Jerel McNeal, Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, all juniors flip a switch heading into their respective senior seasons and become do-it-all winners capable of carrying the Golden Eagles into the NCAA tournament.

At the same time, however, Wilson had the talent to do just that. It’s unfair to toss out unfounded statements criticizing him for a lack of effort, missing a killer instinct or failing to play within Williams’ offense that led to his marginal senior season. But it was something. Something was notably missing. Not every senior turns into a leader just because he’s been around the program for four years, but on-court production is something else. Wilson was expected to be that rock, the player who opponents needed to game plan around rather than just noting on the scouting report. Instead of being “the guy,” he was “just another guy.”

The truth is we’ll remember Wilson for both his accomplishments as a role player as a sophomore and junior, and his failures as a role player in his senior season. It’s a tough question to answer, how we’ll remember him, and maybe unfair to answer just a week after his career ended. Like most recruits, Wilson landed somewhere in between the modest expectations and the he’s-the-best-practice-player-of-all-time statements made of him a few years back. There certainly was untapped potential, but there were also plenty of memorable performances that helped make Marquette a winner.

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One Comment on “How will we remember Jamil Wilson?”

  1. gbranger
    March 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Yeah. What should’ve been. Didn’t make me feel any better. Thanks for the memories, wish you would’ve picked up the torch. I think he’ll be a solid pro because the league needs guys with great talent who are ok with not being “the guy”. That still doesn’t make me feel better. In the “what could’ve been category”. If Vander would’ve stuck around, Jamil’s game would’ve been lifted to the right level. I do wish him the best.

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