Cohen in unique position as short-handed Marquette’s lone freshman
MILWAUKEE — Outside of a select few, college basketball freshman are unpredictable. No matter how skilled or talented they are, the struggle of adapting to a significant step up in competition usually outweighs the flashes of potential.
From starting the first game of the season to not playing at all during Wednesday’s Big East opener, Sandy Cohen III has already had a roller-coaster freshman season.
The Seymour (Wis.) High School alumnus is averaging 4.1 points and shooting 45.5 percent from the field over 11.6 minutes per game, but Cohen is currently the eighth player in what appears to be a seven-man rotation.
"As a freshman you’re always going to have bumps in the road," Cohen said. "Right now I’m kind of going through some things, but I think all freshmen in the country go through this at some point in the season. I think mine just happened a little earlier. Overall it’s been a great experience for me and I love it."
What makes Cohen’s situation unique is he’s the lone true freshman on the Marquette Golden Eagles. There isn’t anyone else going through what Cohen is currently experiencing, as Marquette is just one of four major conference teams with just one true freshman on its roster.
"As he’s going through a normal freshman maturation process, his eyes get big because he’s the only one going through it," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "He doesn’t know that this is what a lot of freshmen go through."
A consensus top-100 recruit, Cohen was the only member of Buzz Williams’ four-man signing class to stick with Marquette following the coaching change.
Cohen drew praise from Wojciechowski during the preseason and was in the starting lineup when the Golden Eagles began their season against Tennessee-Martin on Nov. 14. He started Marquette’s first three games, averaging 8.3 points while playing 22.3 minutes per game.
Wojciechowski shook up the starting lineup following the Golden Eagles’ loss to Omaha, leaving Cohen to play just 11 minutes off the bench against NJIT and just 23 total minutes during Marquette’s next five games.
Cohen flashed his ability against Morgan State, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes. He hit three of his four attempts from beyond the arc to raise his 3-point shooting percentage to 43.5, the third-best mark among qualified true freshman in the Big East.
"I think it’s nice that with the small group of guys that we have that I’m able to at least play a little bit," Cohen said. "I know some freshmen around the country don’t get to play at all. I know it’s a blessing that I do get to play as much as I do."
He pointed to adjusting to the physicality and the speed of the college game as the biggest hurdle he’s trying to overcome.
"You’ve got to bring it every day at this level," Cohen said. "Just doing that is sometimes hard for me, but I feel like my coaches and my teammates are helping me get through it."
As usual, Marquette’s rotation shrunk in its conference opener. Wojciechowski played just seven players against DePaul, but it is hard to imagine the Golden Eagles being able to use such a short rotation throughout the season with such a short-handed roster.
That means opportunity may present itself to Cohen at some point during Big East play.
"Sandy has had his best few days of practice after break," Wojciechowski said. "It (was) nice to see him rewarded for that (against Morgan State).
"The value of preparation — as good of a high school coach as he had — is at a different level. One of the things most freshmen have to learn is how to bring it every day. Since the break, Sandy has done that. It is reflected in his play."
Regardless of how much he plays during the remainder of his freshman season, Cohen has shown enough to indicate he will be a significant contributor in what is a promising future for Marquette.
The 6-foot-6 wing can play multiple positions and should be able to add muscle to his current wiry frame.
"The coaches are great coaches," Cohen said. "They’ve been saying that they believe in me and they believe in my talent. They think I’m going to be a really good player here and they’ve told me that all freshmen have bumps in the road and we’re going to get through it and I’m going to be a good player here."
"I think my physicality, my strength, getting in the weight room more and becoming a more physical player and everything else will come naturally."
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