MILWAUKEE Buzz Williams had no voice. He never does following practices, scrimmages or games. This time he lost it in a closed scrimmage against Virginia.
As the Marquette coach returned to his office at the Al McGuire Center, sitting in front of him was Derrick Wilson and his father. The two were in Milwaukee on a recruiting visit, so Williams had them come to his office to get a grasp on how it went.
Williams asked Wilson's father Dennis what he thought of everything he had seen.
He responded, "I like it."
Williams then turned to Wilson and asked for his take, expecting maybe just a bit more of a response than what his father gave.
Wilson's answer was the same. "I like it."
And with a handshake, he was committed to Marquette. That was it. No games, no run around, it was a done deal. Wilson comes from a military family. Things are done differently. A commitment is a commitment. A handshake is your word and your word is everything.
Growing up, Wilson moved around the world, as both of his parents served in the Army. He was born in Flinsburg, Germany. He's officially listed as from Alaska, but went to high school in Connecticut. Military life shaped who he is both on and off the court.
"When you shake Derrick's hand, that's the deal," Williams said. "When you shake his dad's hand, that's the deal."
Freshman year didn't go as planned for the young guard. He struggled to adjust to the next level. Like many young players, Wilson lacked confidence and decisiveness on the court. His shot left much to be desired, so much so that Williams said last year that Wilson shooting once every 26 minutes was "one too many."
He knew what he had to work on in the summer and was helped by the new NCAA rule that allowed coaches to work with their players during the summer months. Williams decided against working on team things during that time, instead focusing on the individual.
"I let our assistants do all the work," Williams said. "I told our guys before we ever started the first one, 'We're going to four times a week, and we're going to go 30 minutes, and we're not going to do one team concept the entire time. We're going to devote the entire eight weeks that we're allowed to work with you to your game, your improvement. We're going to invest in you. I'm going to be in the gym every single time you're in there, and I'm going to be a cheerleader."
With a work ethic shaped by a military background, Wilson took full advantage.
"He is so disciplined in who he is as a person, and even when you watch him play, he knows what he's not good at," Williams said. "He knows where he needs to get better, but he's very disciplined in his approach in everything he does."
Except for maybe a little bit of over-aggressiveness, Wilson's defense was adequate. He was focused on his offensive game, mainly his jump shot. And it appears the work paid off. He'll never be a big time scorer, but his jumper looks different and speaks of a much more confident player, at least enough to give opponents the threat of him shooting.
"I think that was a big problem last year," Wilson said of his lack of confidence on offense. "That's one thing I really wanted to improve on and I think I improved on it this summer. Staying confident, staying positive and only thinking good thoughts.
"When I got here I was too focused on doing the right thing, doing everything so perfectly that I got so caught up in that. I think that messed me up mentally. Once you get messed up mentally, everything gets out of whack. That's when things started to go bad."
With fellow sophomore Todd Mayo academically ineligible and out for an indefinite period of time, a door is open for Wilson to play a bigger role. While Wilson is still the backup point guard to senior Junior Cadougan, Marquette's lack of depth at the guard position means somebody will have to step up and fill them.
In Sunday's season opener against Colgate, Wilson played 18 minutes off the bench. He had five assists and no turnovers, but scored just two points. There's no question Wilson won't be the scoring threat Mayo was, but taking care of the basketball while playing under control defense will lead to seeing time on the floor. Wilson had just nine turnovers all of last season and now owns a 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
And even though his shot is improved, Williams isn't expecting Wilson to all of a sudden take a lot of shots.
"Once every 26 minutes is still about right," Williams said.
Wilson is going to get his chance to prove he's a different player, what he does with it will be the story. Maybe then Williams will at least let him shoot once per half.
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