MILWAUKEE — If Duane Wilson goes on to realize his potential and become a key contributor to Marquette for the next four years, a flu bug may be to thank for him having an extra year of eligibility.
Fully recovered from a stress fracture in his left leg suffered just prior to the season, Wilson got sick just as he was cleared to play Dec. 14 against IUPUI.
While Wilson may have redshirted no matter what, the illness might have prevented any kind of temptation former coach Buzz Williams had to use him.
"I was so anxious," Wilson said. "I was upset that I got the flu the day I was cleared to play, so I couldn’t play the first game. One thing I will remember about Buzz, he said, ‘Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.’"
In the end, the former Dominican High School (Wis.) star feels as if he made the right decision. Wilson could have rushed back and tried to jump into Marquette’s rotation midway through the season, but there was no guarantee how much he’d play.
Wilson’s talent alone may have helped the Golden Eagles; however, it’s unfair to ask a freshman to jump in and play right away when he missed all of preseason practice.
"I felt sitting out and redshirting was the right thing to do," Wilson said. "It had its good things and its bad things. You get down when you are around your teammates and you are watching them play. But then you help them out in practice, and at least I got to travel and experience a lot of stuff most kids don’t get to see. I feel like it was a good lesson."
A consensus top-100 recruit, Wilson was ranked by Scout.com as the 12th-best point guard in the class of 2013. Wilson was expected to challenge for playing time right away, possibly pushing Derrick Wilson for the starting spot.
Marquette’s offense was struggling when Duane Wilson and Williams needed to make a final decision and there was a thought the 6-foot-2 guard could help. But Williams was thinking long term when he advised Wilson to redshirt.
Wilson eventually came around to the idea of sitting out a full season, knowing he could utilize the time off to get stronger.
"I wasn’t as strong coming in as a freshman," Wilson said. "I feel like the way we play, Derrick (Wilson) is a big guard, going against him every day helped me. Just lifting weights with (director of sports performance) Todd Smith and (director of sports medicine) Ernest Eugene helped me a lot.
"They were a big part of how I got better over the three, four, five months that I had to sit out. Without them I wouldn’t have got stronger or healed as fast. I came back a month and a half earlier than most people expected."
Like the vast majority recruits, Wilson came to Marquette to play for Williams, who became the head coach at Virginia Tech on March 21. There was a period of initial shock, but Wilson eventually came to grips as to why Williams left.
"I was hurt because I respected Buzz, and he was the first coach that offered me a scholarship," Wilson said. "That was one of the main reasons why I came here, because he was the first coach to take a chance on me. At the end of the day it is a business. He has to do what is best for his family. If it was me, I probably would have done the same thing. I still respect him."
There’s always a question as to if returning players will transfer, but Wilson knew he was going to stay at Marquette even before the school hired Steve Wojciechowski.
"That was an easy decision," Wilson said. "I sat out last year already, and I couldn’t sit out another year. I’m ready to play. I was going to stick here no matter what and stick it out."
Wojciechowski will have options at both guard positions from day one. BYU transfer Matt Carlino, Derrick Wilson, John Dawson and Duane Wilson all can play point guard, while Todd Mayo, Jajuan Johnson and incoming freshman Sandy Cohen are options at shooting guard.
The versatility of Carlino, Mayo and Duane Wilson to play on or off the ball will provide Marquette with a variety of possibilities in the backcourt.
No matter where he plays, Duane Wilson is looking to avoid the feeling the Golden Eagles experienced after missing out on the postseason all together last season.
"Growing up you saw us winning so many games and then it was like, ‘Man, how come we aren’t winning?’" Wilson said. "You just always want to be in the spotlight. It hurt not going to the NCAA tournament. But not making the NIT? That was a tough day for us. We came into practice saying, ‘If we are in this NIT, we are in it to win it.’
"It hurt a lot seeing the seniors. I built a relationship with every single one of them. Seeing them go out like that, losing, that just hurt. I feel like we should honor our seniors by at least making the NCAA tournament."