Duane Wilson was upset when Buzz Williams and the Marquette coaching staff suggested he redshirt his freshman season. But after serious contemplation, the backing of his fellow teammates (and an alum) and a refocused vision on the future he now says he made the best decision possible, and he’s ready to get the ball rolling on his first healthy season at Marquette.
The consensus top-100 recruit had steep expectations for himself entering his freshman season, but a stress fracture in left leg sidelined him in late October, just weeks before the season began. It was a crushing blow to a player expected to split time at the point with junior Derrick Wilson and fellow freshman John Dawson.
The original timetable for his return was simply listed as “multiple weeks,” with a source telling Paint Touches that a redshirt was a possibility if he didn’t respond well to treatment or the timetable expanded too far into Big East play.
Wilson returned to practice on a limited basis in early December, right before Marquette’s final exams for the fall semester, and he first approached Williams about a potential return to the lineup prior to the Wisconsin game.
Williams told Wilson it wasn’t in the point guard’s best interest to return just then, seeing as the freshman had only participated in two practices to date. After that game the Golden Eagles had little time to practice during exams, but with a week in between games Wilson said he was cleared to play for the IUPUI game on Dec. 14.
Except he came down with a flu bug.
Marquette cruised past IUPUI that Saturday, but because it had its next game three days later (Ball State) there was even less time for Wilson to get ready. He sat out practice Sunday and though he participated in Monday’s, there simply wasn’t enough time to get in ready to thrown him into the fire after sitting out for nearly two months.
After Marquette’s win against Ball State, Williams and the coaching staff sat down with Wilson to discuss the real possibility of a redshirt.
“(Williams) sat me down on Wednesday after the game and said he thought it would be my best bet to redshirt,” he said. “Because if I redshirt he said I’d get stronger, and he told me he wasn’t going to play me because he didn’t feel like I was in good enough shape and he felt like that would be the best thing for me.
“And I took it wrong at first, but there’s actually a few NBA pros that sat out their freshman year and the next year they did pretty good and I felt like it was good chance for me to improve my game. After a while I took it as being a great teammate and getting better, so I actually enjoyed redshirting. You learn a lot by sitting out and just watching.”
He also got a helping hand from former Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan. Cadougan suffered a torn Achilles in summer workouts before his freshman season and wound up returning in January. And while his efforts in practice were crucial to Marquette’s late NCAA tournament run, it extinguished a year of eligibility in which he played just 46 minutes.
Cadougan, who came back to Milwaukee the weekend of Dec. 28, sat down with Wilson and explained to him that if he could do it all over again, he would have redshirted that 2009-10 season instead of using up his first season to participate in a handful of games.
Wilson understood, and it gave him perspective on just how difficult it would have been to return to action just weeks before a grueling Big East schedule.
“Any kid, your freshman year and you’ve never played in a college game, you want to come back, but it’s hard when you’re coming back in the Big East. It’s hard to throw a freshman out there who hasn’t had the chance to get their feet wet,” he admitted.
So that weekend the announcement was made that Wilson would redshirt his freshman season. And aside from Cadougan’s words of wisdom, he had a pair of teammates who also helped him through the process.
Jamil Wilson and Jake Thomas transferred to Marquette and were forced to sit out a season, and both stayed in Wilson’s ear on how he could improve during his time off.
“Jake told me to stay in the gym, that I should be in the gym more than any guy on the team; use Todd (Smith) and Ernest (Eugene) to my fullest abilities. And Jamil told me just don’t lose my confidence. He always told me to keep my head up and I’d be good and to continue to work on my game and continue what you have to do to improve,” he said. “So I took it as a positive, and just by lifting weights every day and working with Ernest I could see the increase in my game improving every single day coming to practice.”
Wilson did just that. He hit the weight room, gaining 16 pounds, became a better teammate and even improved as an off-ball scorer, playing the position as Williams worked to get active point guards Derrick Wilson and Dawson more playing time at the position in practice. Deonte Burton said Wilson seems more comfortable at the shooting guard position because of the way he’s able to slash off the wing and score in a variety of ways.
He’ll undoubtedly be called upon next season, as the Golden Eagles lose starting shooting guard Jake Thomas. His versatility should play an important role in Steve Wojciechowski’s offense, and having a former Duke point guard in your ear won’t hurt his development at all.
Wilson said he never thought about leaving Marquette after Williams told the team he was leaving for Virginia Tech, proclaiming “I’m Marquette. I’m going to be Marquette for the next four years.”
Wilson also spoke candidly about Williams and the coaching staff, a group of people he’ll miss considerably given all they did for him.
“I was kind of upset because (Williams) was the first coach to ever offer me a scholarship and take a chance on me,” he said. “I always trusted in him and believed in him, and we had a good relationship on and off the court and I really respected Buzz. But at the end of the day it’s a business and you have to do what’s best for your family, so I respected him for it.”