MILWAUKEE, WI—Buzz Williams got the 2013-14 Marquette season underway on a critical note. In his media day press conference, Williams explained that his team—which was standing on the other half of the court, preparing to take its team photo—had a terrible month of September because of its lack of leadership.
It was quite a way to kick off the season for a team that had just reached the Elite Eight for the first time in a decade. But would you expect anything else from Buzz?
Despite their coach's doubts, a lot of players feel they have the leadership in place.
"I feel like I've consistently proved that I'm a leader," said senior forward Jamil Wilson. "I feel like we've got a pretty good leadership group."
Center Chris Otule labeled the leaders as Jamil and Derrick Wilson, but he knows that he needs to step up his leadership skills as well.
"That's something I have to improve on," Otule said. "This year the guys are like 17 and 18 years old and I'm 23, so I have to take on more of that talkative role."
The big man said he was allowed to return for his sixth year because of his clean record.
"It really had to do with my history at Marquette," Otule said. "I never got in trouble and was never a negative person. That allowed me to get a sixth year."
Otule said he decided to come back because he wanted to play two consecutive seasons, something he had never done during his injury-plagued career. Going into this year, Otule said his body feels as good as it ever has.
"Definitely the best my body's felt. No brace, no sleeve or nothing. I'm running better and just feel better."
One big issue Marquette generates on the floor is its plethora of big men. Although Otule and his fellow center, Davante Gardner, didn't spend much time on the court together last season, Otule thinks the pairing could provide a large advantage on the hardwood.
"Hopefully we could play a little bit more together this year," Otule said. "I believe when we play at the same time, we do well together."
Steve Taylor said that the amount of versatile forwards on this team could be a matchup disaster for opponents.
"I think everybody on our team is a mismatch," Taylor said. "I think its gonna be hard for teams to guard us because our bigs are not really bigs, they're like guards. They can play on the post and on the perimeter. I think it's gonna be hard for teams to guard us one-on-one."
Unlike Otule, Taylor did suffer a knee injury during the offseason, but he said his knee was getting better and he was close to 100 percent.
It's evident that Williams has plenty of forwards to shuffle around, but the issue was who would replace Junior Cadougan at point guard for the Golden Eagles. Derrick Wilson seems like he's ready to take on the task of driving the offense. Wilson said he had a strong offseason and worked on improving his offensive skills. He said even Williams was starting to believe in his jumper.
"Buzz is actually starting to believe in it [his shot]," Wilson said. "It's good to hear from time-to-time."
One thing that makes Wilson a luxury at point guard is his ability to take care of the basketball. Williams raved about Wilson's prudence on the floor during his press conference, but Wilson knows he needs to break out of his cautious mold if he wants to lead the offense
"I hate turning over the ball, it's a waste of a possession," Wilson said. "I think that's also hurt me because sometimes you have to take chances to make certain plays."
Another thing that makes Wilson unique is his experience as a two-sport athlete at The Hotchkiss School in Anchorage, Alaska.
"I played running back and linebacker in high school and you have to read things," Wilson said. "The way people's hips move, the way the line moves. I think that has helped me defensively, staying in front of people and making a guess of where they're going."
The other player who could see some minutes at the point is Duane Wilson, a freshman from Dominican High School in Milwaukee. Wilson may be the more talented scorer, but he is prepared to thrive in any opportunity he gets to play.
"My first goal is just to be on a team that hopefully wins a national championship," the younger Wilson said. "Second, be a great team player and then fill any role that Buzz throws at me.
These are encouraging words to hear from a freshman, especially one as talented as Wilson. He, Deonte Burton and JaJuan Johnson are three special recruits who could see some considerable minutes in their freshman seasons.
One of the main themes of the offseason was coming, going and returning. Jamal Ferguson, Jake Thomas and Juan Anderson all had plans to transfer in March. Ferguson ultimately did transfer, but Anderson and Thomas decided to return to Marquette weeks after choosing to depart.
Anderson's decision was the most shocking because it was sudden and unexplainable. Anderson said that once he came home in May, he had to weigh the positives and negatives of transferring.
"I received my release as everyone knows, I went home, talked to my mom, compared pros and cons and we decided it was best that I come back," Anderson said.
One question Anderson faced throughout media day was why he decided to leave Marquette in the first place. He said it was a combination of multiple factors, but mainly because of his desire to be at home with his family.
"I'm real close with my family and I was getting home sick a little bit," Anderson said. "I have a little brother and sister, so I'm missing them growing up."
Anderson explained there were no negative feelings when he did get his release and that everyone brought him back with open arms when he decided to return. Most importantly, Anderson said he is relieved for this process to be over.
"I'm happy with my decision. I'm glad we're doing media day so all these questions will get out of the way," Anderson said. "I was expecting the questions, so I'm glad we're moving forward."
This Marquette team has been the popular pick to win the reformed Big East, but the team's expectations are still high, regardless of the praise it has received.
"To win, that's about it," Jamil Wilson said. "I know we added a couple of schools and things like that. But I don't think that changes our goal. We try to win each and every day and try not to give too much time away."
"(My goal is) to get farther than we did last year," Taylor said. "Even if we don't get as far as we did last year I expect us to play as hard as we can each and every night.
"To continue the success that they had in the original Big East and to come out, compete and play hard," said junior college transfer Jameel McKay.
"To win each game at a time," Dylan Flood said. "We see we are one of the people picked to win the Big East, but we can't get caught up in that. We gotta realize that every game is going to be a challenge and just go into every game and do the best we can to win".
"I don't know how much we're gonna win, but I do know we're gonna win a lot of games," Anderson said. We have a great team, a well-rounded team, great leaders and a great coach."