MILWAUKEE — Junior Cadougan thought it was going to be easy when he stepped on Marquette University’s campus as a freshman.
Little did he know just how hard it was going to be.
As Marquette’s senior point guard prepares to play his final game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon, Cadougan is far from the kid that came to Milwaukee from prep school in Texas.
But that’s a good thing. He came to Marquette expecting to have it all handed to him like so many do. It wasn’t long before he realized he was going to have to fight just to keep his career alive.
Suzette Cadougan has never seen her son lose in Milwaukee. Each time she’s made the trip from her home in Toronto, Marquette has won with her in the stands.
She’s in town spending the week of Senior Day with Junior, attending his final home game against Notre Dame.
“She and I have an incredible relationship,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. ” … We just need to pray one more time (she sees him win.)”
Senior Day is a tricky one for coaches. While it’s not the last time Williams will coach Cadougan, it’s almost a mile marker along the way.
Saturday will be unlike any other Senior Day Williams has ever experienced. Cadougan is the first player in Williams’ 19 years as a Division I assistant or head coach that he’ll be around for his recruitment, signing and final game.
“I am Junior’s dad,” Williams said. “And he’ll tell you that. I don’t say that in an arrogant way, I say that in a way to where I don’t have to reveal the truth to all of that.
“It’s sort of a beginning of the end type feeling, specific to him.”
Cadougan and his family were just sitting on the porch in front of their Toronto-area house. Suzette had just gotten home from work as crowd slowly gathered, just hanging out and talking. As Cadougan went to go back into the house for a moment, a car pulled up, and he suddenly heard gunshots.
His four-year-old brother Shaquan was hit four times. While his brother survived the drive-by shooting, Cadougan had to witness the terrifying sight.
Soon after, Cadougan got out of the area to focus on basketball at the Christian Life Center Academy in Humble, Tex.
“He’s overcome things that the media is unaware of,” Williams said. “Things that are mindboggling, things I’ve never seen happen in a player’s personal life in my coaching career.”
Cadougan’s basketball career took off in Texas. He led his team to the National Association of Christian Athletes Elite national championship and became a consensus Top 100 recruit.
He decided on Marquette and basketball was just going to continue to come easy to him.
The first hurdle was gaining eligibility academically from the NCAA’s Clearinghouse. Though he missed the summer of his freshman year, Cadougan eventually gained eligibility.
On Sept. 18, 2009, Cadougan was working out when his Achilles’ tendon ruptured. Supposed to be out his entire freshman season, he returned on Jan. 23 and gave Marquette 3.9 minutes per game in its final 12 games of the season.
It was then his relationship with Williams began to broaden. Cadougan didn’t understand some of the tactics his head coach used to motivate him at first. He’d used to walk past Williams and wonder what in the world he was saying.
“When I first got here, I thought everything was going to be sweet and nice and I was going to be the point guard,” Cadougan said. “Since I got here, he’s been really tough on me.
“He was just trying to toughen me up. Saying ‘Look, it’s not going to be easy here and you are going to learn a lot of things.’ As the years went on, it changed my mentality.”
Instead of taking a nap, Cadougan would instead go spend that time getting extra help in study hall. The tough love Williams showed him helped Cadougan develop a mindset to beat the adversity and to overcome the struggles.
And there were struggles. Even today, Cadougan isn’t a star. He will leave Marquette with a career points per game average around 5.5 and is currently averaging a career high 8.6 points per game this season.
But he’s developed into a leader and a winner with a heart of a champion. He so often says how much he hates to lose, and he rarely has. Marquette is 49-16 in the 65 games Cadougan has started at point guard. His journey wouldn’t have had the happy ending without tremendous hard work. Cadougan says the biggest difference in him today from when he was a freshman is his mentality toward work.
Williams joked Cadougan couldn’t even spell Marquette when he signed his letter of intent. Now he’s on track to graduate from the university.
“He has probably overcome just as much academically as he has as a player,” Williams said. “No matter where his playing career takes him from here, the fact he’s going to have a diploma is really, really cool.”
It was hard for Cadougan to give one specific example of the impact Williams has had on his life, on and off the court. In a time where he needed it the most, Williams not only pushed him but taught him how to be a man in every sense of the word.
Whenever Cadougan takes off the Marquette uniform for the last time, his perseverance and willingness to learn will guide him into the future.
“It’s been a journey,” Cadougan said. “I’m proud of myself that I’m in the position that I’m in now.
“After I leave here, I’m on my own basically. The things that I learned here are going to carry over to the real world, and I think that’s going to help a lot.”