After the Marquette men’s basketball team arrived home following its Sweet 16 loss to Florida in Phoenix, it took a few days to rest.
But less than a week later, the Golden Eagles were back in the gym and weight room to get a head start on next year.
Notably missing in those workouts have been seniors Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. The two seniors accounted for almost 47 percent of Marquette’s scoring, over 68 percent of its three-point makes and, most importantly, were the two most vocal leaders on and off the court last year.
Junior guard Junior Cadougan is now next in line on a long list of past senior leaders for the Golden Eagles.
Cadougan took on a full-time starting role for the first time last year and responded with the 10th-highest single-season assist total in Marquette history (5.3 assists per game). The Golden Eagles were a perfect 16-0 when Cadougan dished out six assists or more. But now Marquette will look on Cadougan to take the lead.
“I just have to take it to another level,” Cadougan said. “I have to be consistent every day and be on top of things. I’m one of the oldest players on the team now, so me, Chris (Otule) and Jamil (Wilson) have to help each other improve.”
The Golden Eagles’ early off-season workouts have included weight training, conditioning and individual skill practice. For reserve freshman guard Derrick Wilson, the off-season has meant a changed mindset.
Wilson averaged nine minutes per game last year and was a standout defender while taking care of the ball on offense. He committed just nine turnovers in 292 minutes.
But without Johnson-Odom and Crowder to create for the rest of the offense next year, Wilson, who attempted just 16 field goals in 33 games, understands his role will change. He will take time in the off-season to work on getting to the basket and improving his jump shot.
“I got too much into the mindset that I was a defensive player coming off the bench, and I think that’s what hurt me as far as my offensive game. I could have been a little more aggressive,” Wilson said. “So I’ve been working on that in the off-season, shooting and getting my confidence up.”
As Cadougan and Wilson look to become more aggressive to the basket, it should free up outside looks for sharpshooter Jake Thomas. The transfer from South Dakota, who will have two years of eligibility, said he took plenty from last year, when he sat out per NCAA rules.
“I had to work a lot harder to get open, work harder to get my shot off. I tried to work on my toughness every day,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of drivers and penetrators on the team, so I think I’ll be able to spread the floor and they can pass it to me if the defense collapses on them.”
Marquette’s identity will be different next year, given the loss of two All-Americans, one of whom the reigning Big East Player of the Year. But Wilson said the team understands the process and that new players will step into larger roles to help combat the losses of Johnson-Odom and Crowder.
Cadougan said Marquette’s “new” team still has a long way to go, but he is excited about the team’s attitude to improve early and often in the off-season.
“After two or three days, guys started getting back into the gym right away and starting workouts,” Cadougan said. “I guess because we all missed it so much.”