MILWAUKEE — Under Buzz Williams, Marquette University has watched eight players find their way on an NBA roster at one point or another. The vast majority, if not all, had to overcome long odds or physical limitations to make it to the next level.
Not many of them had the combination of athleticism, physical tools and NBA size Jamil Wilson brings to the table. At 6-foot-7, Wilson is strong enough to play inside but also quick enough to defend guards and wings. But just as there have been many who have beat the odds to make the NBA, countless players have had the physical tools necessary only to not complete the jump to the next level for one reason or another.
Wilson has shown flashes of his potential over his two seasons at Marquette but has never put it all together on a consistent basis. If the Golden Eagles are going to continue their recent success and if Wilson is going to realize his NBA dream, the senior is going to need to step up in his last year on campus.
“I feel like I’ve been a leader before in my past years here,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been as vocal or scoring the most points, but I’ve always been one of the smartest guys in the program as far as knowing plays and defensive assignments.
“My definition of leadership may be different than a lot of people’s (definitions). I define leading as trying to know everything or have a sense of what everything is. I’ve always exposed guys and let them know what was going on. As far as stepping up production, definitely (it’s my time).”
Marquette is tasked with replacing 31.4 points per game from last season, 14.8 of those points departing when Vander Blue decided to skip his season to turn pro. Wilson is Marquette’s second-leading scorer among returners at 9.7 points per game, but he shouldn’t have to shoulder all of the offensive burden.
Recently, Williams shared a stat that stuck with Wilson: Over 50 percent of Blue’s points came in transition last season.
“I don’t think anyone on our team plans on getting slower and neither does Buzz,” Wilson said. “Out of the points he scored, I’m sure those will still be there in transition. It’s just a matter of who is going to score them. Even though the pieces change, our plans are still the same. We’re still going to get out, we’re still going to run and we’re still going to defend. Those abilities and those points will still be there. Maybe a combination of people will fill them, maybe somebody will come into a role and fill them.”
There has been a distinct difference in what Williams calls “good Jamil” and “bad Jamil”, and it’s no coincidence the Golden Eagles have been a much better team when Wilson is playing at a high level. A match-up nightmare because of his size and athleticism, Wilson can play every position on the floor for Marquette.
The versatility Wilson brings is rare in college and allows Williams to tinker with lineups to go big and small at times.
“The other day Buzz told me I’m going to have to play the one through the five on both sides of the floor,” Wilson said. “You never know what (your role) is going to be. I like to be over-prepared and just kind of go with the flow regardless of what it is. If he wants to play me somewhere or gets an idea to play me somewhere, I need to know things like that.
“I just like to know the game as a whole, just in case something comes up, someone gets in foul trouble or he needs me to guard someone. I’m glad he trusts me like that. Hopefully I can build on that this year.”
NBADraft.net currently projects Wilson as a late second-round pick in the 2014 draft, but his stock could rise in a hurry with a big senior season and another deep run into the NCAA tournament.
The Golden Eagles are picked to win the Big East regular season title and are no longer underdogs. But expectations also have been risen for Wilson, picked to the preseason All-Big East second team. From Jerel McNeal to Wesley Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Vander Blue, Marquette has always had a player step up under Williams to replace those who have left for the professional ranks.
Wilson has the ability to be the next in line, something Marquette needs from him or somebody else in order to reach the lofty goals the program has.
“I think a lot of people get into proving people wrong, but why don’t you just prove the people that are behind you right?” Wilson said. “That’s the big thing with our team this year.
“Personally, just give it my all. This is the last time I’m going to wear a Marquette uniform and the last time I’ll be able to play in front of my family on a regular basis. Just invest everything that I’ve invested in myself on the court. I feel like my summer has paid off and now I’m just trying to make it a reality now.”