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This year’s freshman class is Wojo’s most important

Move aside Henry Ellenson.

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Everyone knows the most important aspect to being a great coach in college basketball is to be a great recruiter. You get top tier players and you will be a top tier team. For teams not named Duke or Kentucky, bringing in tons of top prospects every year is nearly impossible.

For the other 99% of basketball teams, their head coaches need to be able to develop their players. For now (key words), Marquette is in the 99%. For Marquette to jump back into the top tier of Big East teams, Steve Wojciechowski needs to not just recruit stars, but create them. This coaching skill is one Wojo has lacked so far in his short career.

Transfer Woes

Most of Marquette’s freshman class for Wojo’s first season left with Buzz Williams. The lone freshman who came to Marquette was Sandy Cohen III. Cohen came to Marquette as the 83rd-ranked prospect of the 2014 recruiting class. A 6-foot-6 two-guard with a long wingspan and the capability of knocking down the three, Cohen seemed to have plenty of potential.

After two average seasons (averaging 15 then 23 minutes per game), Cohen showed no improvement in his game, especially lacking in confidence. Seeing his playtime diminish to 6 minutes per game to start his junior year, Cohen decided to transfer from Marquette.

Wojo’s first recruiting class was highlighted by five-star recruit Henry Ellenson. Ellenson had a productive freshman year before leaving for the NBA. Another freshman that year, Haanif Cheatham, became a key player as well. Cheatham came in as the 85th ranked freshman of 2015 recruiting class. Playing 29.5 min per game as a freshman, Cheatham averaged 12 points and 3 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field. Being named to the Big East All-Freshman team, Cheatham’s future looked bright at Marquette.

Over the next two seasons, Cheatham saw his playtime, performance and confidence decrease. After a promising start, Cheatham failed to improve his game, and after five games into his junior season, he decided to transfer.

Setting the Example

Having won the last four Big East regular season championships and the National Championship in 2016, Jay Wright has established himself as one of the best coaches in college basketball. With all of Villanova’s success, Wright does not bring in five-star recruits every year like Calipari or Coach K. Wright has shown a great ability to develop players. Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges are great examples Wright’s ability to develop players.

2017’s Big East Player of the Josh Hart arrived at Villanova having been the 92nd ranked high schooler of the 2013 recruiting class. As a freshman, Hart started one game and averaged 21.4 minutes per game. After a great freshman season, Hart would go on to improve his game. Each year at Villanova, Hart would increase his minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals. Josh Hart now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mikal Bridges came to Villanova the 82nd ranked player in the 2014 recruiting class (only one ahead of Sandy Cohen). Bridges started no games his freshman year while averaging 20 minutes per game. Just like Hart, Bridges showed improvement in most statistics over the next two years. Along with his minutes increasing, his points, rebound, assists and steal numbers increased each year as well. Averaging 18 points per game so far this season, Bridges has turned into a potential lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

The Big Three

Wojo’s 2017 class featured no five-star recruits. With six returning players and Harry Froling returning in December, expectations were not high for the three-eligible freshman: Greg Elliott, Jamal Cain and Theo John. When Cheatham decided to transfer in November (before Froling’s return), the freshmen were forced into new, now important roles.

Marquette’s freshman class of 2017 is crucial to this season’s performance, but where their value will truly be judged is their ability to develop in the future. All three freshmen are contributing this season, but all Marquette fans should hope they show improvement next season.

Wojo has proved the ability to recruit well. Wojo has brought in impact freshman in Ellenson, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser, with Hauser’s highly-ranked brother Joey coming in next year. To this date, Wojo does not have a player of note to show significant improvement at Marquette. This year’s recruiting class is the perfect opportunity for Wojo to show he can develop his players. If he can, Marquette can return to the top tier of the Big East Conference.