MILWAUKEE — A constant stream of reporters flocked to Derrick Wilson on Marquette’s media day, a level of attention the junior point guard has never had to experience before in his collegiate career.
The backup point guard doesn’t often garner much notice, especially one who averaged just 1.1 points per game last season while shooting 27.3 percent from the field. But after years of flying under the radar, Wilson’s time has arrived as he gets the first crack to replace Junior Cadougan as Marquette’s starting point guard.
“I have to be better than I’ve ever been before,” Wilson said. “I think all of us have to be better than we have before because getting to the Sweet 16, Sweet 16 and then Elite Eight, people are after you now. I have to step up.”
Before even thinking about improving his jump shot or anything like that, Wilson must find a way to establish trust with his coach. Buzz Williams and Cadougan built a strong relationship over the course of four years, a big factor in Marquette’s success.
Though it will take some time, Williams has made building a close relationship with his point guard a priority, and his confidence in Wilson is growing by the day.
“I want to like the guy who is the lead guard out there solo by himself a lot,” Williams said. “I want to trust him. Junior Cadougan is not nearly the athlete that Derrick was the day he took his first team picture, but I trusted Junior. I trusted Junior as a person, and I trusted Junior with the ball in his hands. It never was appealing to the outside eye, but he also won 97 games. That’s very appealing in the end. Derrick has big shoes to fill. Is he going to be able to fill them the same way that Junior did? No.”
The communication line between coach and point guard has grown in the past few months, as Williams delivers a message before each practice and Wilson has begun to ask more questions and seek advice.
There were many times Cadougan stayed on the court through struggles because Williams knew he was the guy that was going to help Marquette win. He doesn’t have that kind of faith in Wilson just yet.
“When you build a relationship with somebody for the course of the time that Junior was here and that’s your starting point guard and the guy you go to, that’s the guy you are focused on because he’s your voice on the floor,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t the voice on the floor that Junior was. Their relationship was a little closer, but I think as this year goes on and we go through the preseason, I think our relationship will get stronger. It’s pretty strong now, but I think it will only get stronger as far as communicating off the court talking about different things.”
Ask any of Wilson’s teammates who have been around him for more than a year and they will give complete support to him as a leader. As a shy and respectful person, Wilson is still learning how and when to speak up, but he’s embracing the challenge.
“I would say Derrick is one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” senior forward Jamil Wilson said. “I think his family background, both his parents being in the military, has a lot to do with that. I think because people only saw him in glimpses last year because of Junior, a lot of people don’t know everything he’s capable of.
“I would say Derrick is a phenomenal player. He’s great at what he does on both sides of the floor. He doesn’t try to extend too much out of his range, he knows exactly what he can and can’t do. He does a great job staying within his limits.”
While Marquette doesn’t need Wilson to be one of its leading scorers, the Golden Eagles can’t have him as an offensive liability if they are going to compete for a Big East championship and make a deep run into the tournament.
Wilson has proven he can take care of the basketball, as his 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio would have placed him sixth in the nation if he had enough minutes to qualify. While the turnovers will likely rise with an expanded role and more time on the court, Wilson still should protect the ball better than Cadougan, who was 189th with a 1.53 assist to turnover ratio.
“In some ways he’s a lot better than Junior,” Williams said. “He was a lot better in certain aspects when Junior was here. But from a leadership standpoint and from the way I coached Junior and that was an extension to the other 10 kids that played, that was really big over a four-year period of time. I like the fact that I’m beginning to like Derrick more and more — not that I’ve ever disliked him. That’s really important to me, and he can never betray that trust.”
The delicacy in which Wilson took care of the basketball also limited him on offense. There were never any risks taken, as he was overly afraid to screw up, a feeling natural to a reserve player. Wilson plans on going back to the player he was in high school and not thinking so much on the court. He knows risks will have to be taken in order to help Marquette’s offense succeed.
“I’m very organized and I don’t like when things get out of whack,” Wilson said. “I don’t like when mistakes happen. I tried not to make a mistake, and I did not take chances. Sometimes you have to take chances in this game at any position in order to be successful. I think that’s what I have to do this year as far as shooting the ball and making certain passes, going for home run plays here and there.”
Despite his seniority, Derrick Wilson doesn’t have a starting spot locked away just yet. Freshman Duane Wilson is a talented athlete who may push for playing time right away. It’s unlikely Williams will chose to start an 18-year-old at a position like point guard right away, but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
Nobody knows about challenging an older player like Derrick Wilson. He went at Cadougan every day and often drew great praise from Williams along the way. No matter how well Wilson showed in the practice gym, Williams remained loyal to Cadougan because of the bond developed between the two of them.
Williams told Wilson he had earned the right to start at point guard at a point during last season, but he then explained why he was sticking with Cadougan. It was a teachable moment, one Williams knew at the time was going to come back around with Wilson in Cadougan’s shoes one day.
“The younger guys are going to push me, and I think I need that,” Wilson said. “I think all of us need that. Last year I pushed Junior, and he played very well. Stepping into a new role and trying to establish myself I just need to lead by example. If you are doing everything right and everybody sees you working hard, the coach trusts you and then the other guys are going to do the same thing.”