Every single head coach, in every single sport has gone through growing pains. Whether they were legends in their respective sports or were fired after one season, each and every one of them had to learn from their mistakes. What separates the elite from the rest of the bunch is how they responded to those errors.
Marquette University head basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski is in the midst of his first season running a college program. If that is not enough adversity, the Golden Eagles are going through the first rebuilding period the school has seen in over a decade.
After reaching NCAA tournaments with regularity, this season is expected to be the second one in a row that the Golden Eagles do not go dancing come March. Nobody will be surprised if this prediction comes to fruition, especially after Deonte Burton transferred to Iowa State last month.
While this season is not expected to end with Marquette being in the field of 68, many believe that Wojo should use each and every game as an opportunity for the core of the program to grow as a cohesive unit. By following this approach, the budding underclassmen of Jajuan Johnson, Duane Wilson, and Sandy Cohen III will be able to significantly contribute when the team is expected to contend starting next season.
On New Year’s Eve, the Golden Eagles suffered what is, up to this point, their most embarrassing loss of the season. Some may argue that the defeat at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha earlier in the year was more devastating, but losing 61-58 to DePaul in the conference opener appeared to sting a little more.
Again, these losses to inferior opponents are going to happen this season. What was important was if the Golden Eagles would respond in favorable fashion, which they did by pulling off the upset against Providence, 75-66, on Saturday afternoon.
While the victory signaled to some that the loss to the Blue Demons was more of a fluke than a regular occurrence, it was what happened after the win that was the most encouraging.
After the loss to the Blue Demons, people began to question why Wojo did not play Cohen a single minute. A team that only has eight scholarship players should use every single available body or the chances of the team losing due to fatigue increases. This was the case as a physically drained Matt Carlino shot 3-for-14 from the field and 1-for-10 from behind the arc, which included him missing a go-ahead shot at the end of the game.
For the first time people began to question Wojo’s decision-making. Why keep Cohen on the bench the entire game? It is not as if he is some average player that brings nothing to the table. Especially with Cohen being a feature piece of the future, Wojo should give him as much game experience as possible.
Everybody knew that Wojo messed up. The question was, did he know that he did.
Sure enough, unprompted by any grueling questions by the media, Wojo addressed the issue at hand.
“It was my mistake not playing Sandy against DePaul. I take responsibility for it,” Wojo exclaimed. “He should have seen the floor and that is on me.”
After winning his first Big East game of his career, nobody expected Wojo to bring up what happened earlier on in the week. Many expected the issue to just fall by the wayside; at least that is what happened when Buzz Williams was running the show in Milwaukee.
Once again Wojo proved that he is not Buzz. He clearly learned from his mistake—he played Cohen 12 significant minutes against Providence—and it paid off as seen by the freshman’s 12 point performance.
Wojo is trying to cement his own identity in the early stages of his tenure at Marquette. He continues to preach transparency and honesty. On Saturday he once again proved that he will not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk.