‘Great things ahead’: Marquette, Fischer see success on horizon

Indiana transfer Luke Fischer has been the biggest bright spot in a rebuilding year at Marquette. Next season, he'll be joined by a fleet of top recruits.

Frank Victores/Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette will not make the NCAA tournament this season. About that I feel certain.

In his first try at a head-coaching gig, Coach K disciple Steve Wojciechowski has his Golden Eagles at 10-9 (and only 2-5 in Big East play) heading into Wednesday’s home game against Seton Hall. This was always going to be a rebuilding year in Milwaukee after Buzz Williams left Marquette with a pretty empty cupboard just two seasons removed from an Elite Eight appearance.

But there are plenty of positive signs on the horizon that ought to give Marquette fans hope a brighter future will be coming soon.

One reason is the top-10 recruiting class Wojo has already signed for next season. That class includes three Wisconsin natives, none more important than power forward Henry Ellenson, who might end up as the nation’s top incoming big man. For Wojo to sign that sort of class straight away is a statement to the rest of the Big East.

Another reason is that the current stable of players has been competing admirably despite a lack of depth that became even more alarming when two sophomores — including Deonte Burton, who was projected as one of this team’s breakout candidates — decided to transfer in December. Of Marquette’s five Big East losses heading into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. ET game against Seton Hall on FOX Sports 1, one was in overtime to a tough Georgetown team. The other four were by an average margin of four points.

And perhaps the biggest reason for optimism is the emergence of sophomore big man Luke Fischer, who has given Marquette a new dimension since he became eligible in mid-December after transferring from Indiana in the middle of last season. The 6-foot-11 center from the Milwaukee suburbs gives the Golden Eagles a talented post presence they lacked. He ranks 56th in the nation in block percentage, according to KenPom.com, and has averaged 10.5 points and 4.8 rebounds since becoming eligible.

I know a coach never wants to think ahead to next season when he’s in the middle of this season. But let’s be honest: The best thing that can happen to Marquette this season is for the program to become better situated for the future. And right now, the possibility of Fischer playing alongside stud recruit Ellenson is enough to make a Marquette fan’s mouth water.

“I knew it was a rebuilding year,” Wojo told me recently. “You just look at the roster of the team that was there, 17-15 the year before, and then you see who was returning and what those guys accomplished in college. My eyes were wide open, and I knew it would be a process.”

WANT MORE COLLEGE HOOPS?

The process has already seen the emergence of this big man with a background in volleyball that helps him on the basketball court.

As a high school kid – one who shot up six inches in a summer and decided basketball was a better fit than his first two loves, baseball and football – Fischer played for his high school volleyball team. He was stationed on the right side and was always blocking the other team’s best hitter. Once, during a game between high school seniors and the school’s faculty, Fischer spiked a ball directly into the face of a female teacher. He felt bad about it, like in that scene from “Meet the Parents.”

“I credit volleyball a lot with helping me at basketball,” Fischer told me. “Timing for rebounds, stuff like that, it really helps so much.”

It’s been a pretty wild couple years for Fischer since he graduated from high school and left for Indiana a few days later. It was apparent early in his stay in Bloomington that Indiana wasn’t the right fit for him. A month into the basketball season, he made the decision to transfer and decided to come back home to Marquette. A few months after transferring, though, his fiery and colorful coach, Buzz Williams, decided to take the job at Virginia Tech. By the time his freshman year was over, Fischer was already on his third college head coach.

And with that third coach, Fischer has found a great fit.

“Luke has a chance to be one of the best players in the United States as he continues to develop,” Wojo told me. “He’s a high-IQ post player, a team guy, a very easy guy to play with. He’s a good defender and guy who can score in the post and pass out of the post. Luke’s got a chance to be an NBA player at some point.”

What we’re seeing in Fischer is a bit of a throwback player. He focuses on fundamentals over flash, which is what his high school coach pounded into him. All through high school and into college, Fischer’s workouts have been filled with hook shot after hook shot, pump fakes, mastering the right hand then the left hand. He’s learning to be patient when he gets the ball in the post, and to be smart, too. His coach loves his fundamentals but is pushing him to be more aggressive, more demonstrative in calling for the ball.

Sure, all of this will translate into a few more Big East victories for Marquette this season. But the more important part isn’t the results this season but instead how what’s learned this season pays off next season.

“It’s hard this year with only eight guys,” Fischer said. “We make the most of it with what we have. We’re going to play hard every day. But looking at the future roster we can have, it’s exciting. Everyone around here thinks we have great things ahead.”

Email Reid Forgrave at reidforgrave@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @reidforgrave.