Like his mentor Mike Krzyzewski did at Duke, Steve Wojciechowski would like to create a legacy of being Marquette’s long time coach.
He has stated multiple times throughout the last couple of years that he could see himself spend the rest of his life at Marquette, building an empire like his mentor did with the Blue Devils.
However, like all historic and great empires, they weren’t built in one day—not even one year.
It has been an uphill climb for Wojciechowski, who came to Marquette in 2014 after Buzz Williams took his coaching talents down to Virginia Tech. Prior to arriving at Marquette, Wojciechowski spent 15 years as an assistant coach at Duke, after enjoying a four-year career as a Blue Devil and then playing one year professionally in Poland.
He earned his first ever win as a head coach in Marquette’s 2014 season opener, beating Tennessee-Martin 79-63. Since then, it hasn’t been a completely smooth journey.
Wojciechowski compiled a 33-32 record over his first two years at Marquette. In his first year, the Golden Eagles finished just 13-19 and was tied with Creighton for last place in the Big East. They were only able to win four games in conference play and suffered a pair of six-game losing streaks during that stretch. For a team transitioning between coaches and only having eight players on scholarship for most of the season, it could have been much worse.
Heading into the following season, Wojciechowski remedied the situation with a nationally top 10 recruiting class, headlined by current Detroit Pistons forward Henry Ellenson and four other four-star recruits. It helped spur a turnaround season, resulting in an improved 20-13 overall record. However, the Golden Eagles' 8-10 record in the Big East left more to be desired, although they were able to advance to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Marquette has been starving for a NCAA Tournament appearance. It has yet to see a tournament bid under Wojciechowski and 2013's run to the Elite Eight is drifting further and further away in the rear view mirror. Despite the lack of an invitation to the Big Dance, Marquette has liked what it is has seen from its head coach so far, signing him to an extension to last through the 2021-22 season.
Looking ahead to the upcoming 2016 season, Wojciechowski will have a challenge in finding a replacement for Ellenson, who averaged a team-high 17.0 points and 9.7 rebounds. The departure of the 6-foot-11 big man leaves a gaping hole in the frontcourt and in the starting rotation.
On the bright side, apart from Ellenson, Marquette graduated one senior--Michael Mache, who appeared in just four games last year. So, the Golden Eagles are bringing back everyone else, including four different players who averaged in double figures last season--Luke Fischer, Haanif Cheatham, Duane Wilson, and JaJuan Johnson. They lose a big asset in Ellenson but are hoping to find the means to make up for his production through other pieces.
Both Traci Carter and Sandy Cohen III played a lot of minutes in the Golden Eagle rotation, averaging over 20 minutes each. Guard Sacar Anim and Matt Heldt should expect for more playing time as sophomores.
Aside from the many experienced players Wojciechowski is bringing back, he and the Golden Eagles are welcoming a handful of newcomers. Transfers Andrew Rowsey (UNC Asheville) and Katin Reinhardt (USC) can have an impact.
Rowsey, a redshirt junior, sat out last season—per transfer rules—after racking up 1,244 points over two seasons as a Bulldog. Reinhardt, a graduate transfer, has had a prominent role at his two previous stops--UNLV and USC--averaging at least 10 points per game in every season he's played in.
Then there's the pair of incoming freshmen, Markus Howard (Findlay Prep, Nev.) and Sam Hauser (Stevens Point Area HS, Wisc.), who were both listed as four-star prospects. Howard has won a pair of gold medals for Team USA, competing on the U-16 and U-17 teams at the FIBA World Championships over the last two years. Hauser provides the Golden Eagles with a perimeter threat as one of the top three-point shooters coming out of high school in the state of Wisconsin. He shot nearly 44.0 percent from long range as a senior and a state-best 50.6 percent from beyond the arc as a junior.
So while Ellenson's departure is a loss that will affect production on the court and limit Marquette's depth in the paint, it appears that Wojciechowski has the ingredients elsewhere, particularly in the backcourt.
But will it be enough?
Even with the talented Ellenson, the Golden Eagles couldn’t finish with a winning record in conference play. Will a year of experience help what was a rather young Marquette team?
With a combination of veterans and promising newcomers, does Wojciechowski have what it takes to lead the Golden Eagles closer to the top of the Big East and bring them back to the Big Dance later in March?