By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Dec 02, 2013 at 1:05 PM Photography: David Bernacchi

Not much about Junior Cadougan’s game was ever appealing to the eye. The 6-foot, 1-inch, 205-pound point guard from Canada always seemed a step slow, his shot a bit off. His stat lines were never eye-popping. And, everyone seemed to be looking over his shoulder.

There has to be somebody better than this.

Well, in his three years running Buzz Williams’ offense full-time for Marquette University, Cadougan managed to win 97 games – good for sixth best in school history. The tournament history (back-to-back Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight appearance) speak for itself, as well.

After all, it’s about winning, and Cadougan managed to get it done.

For two years, one of the players who many looked at over Cadougan’s shoulder was Derrick Wilson. The 6-1, 215-pound point guard from Alaska seemed quicker, stronger, better.

He was a key contributor his first two years, averaging 24.1 minutes in 34 games (15 starts) his freshman year and 25.2 minutes in 35 games (6 starts) last year.

With Cadougan graduated, it was Wilson’s time to take the reins. But it wasn’t going to be handed to him.

"My confidence is growing in him," Williams said of Wilson before the season began. "I like him. I know that doesn’t matter to you, but it matters a lot to me. I want to like the guy who is the lead guard, who’s out there solo, by himself I want to trust him. Junior Cadougan was not near the athlete that Derrick was the day Derrick took his first team picture. But I trusted Junior. I trusted Junior as a person. I trusted Junior as a player. I trusted Junior with the ball. It was never appealing to the outside eye.

"But he also won 97 games. Derrick’s got big shoes to fill. Is he going to be able to fill them the same way that Junior did? No. In some ways he’s a lot better than Junior. In some ways he was a lot better in certain aspects when Junior was here, but from a leadership standpoint and form the way that I coached Junior and how that was an extension to the other 10 kids that played, that was really big."

Wilson knew he would have to work at gaining his coach’s trust, and he took the task to heart.

"I talk to Buzz a lot," he said. "I always go to him, ask him questions, he tells me things, what I should do, every day before we do around the horn he comes up and tells me something. Just communicating more off the court as well. On the court I’m his second voice. He knows I know what to do. He knows I know what spots everybody’s supposed to be at. It’s just knowing he can trust me off the court. As a team, we have to be good on the court and off the court and I think he’s more concerned with more off the court. If you don’t handle things off the court then you can’t be on the court."

One thing Wilson seemed to get down before the season began was the leadership aspect of being the point guard on a team with high expectations. He carried himself high, head up, back straight. He made eye contact, and spoke in measured tones – the little things that are noticed.

"(I’m) just trying to do everything I can to be a better leader for the team," he said. "Trying to take on the point guard role is a learning process every day. That’s something that’s going to take time, to learn everything that he has done here. He’s done a lot here, so I think I’m just taking one day at a time, just trying to get better and fill that position up as much as I can every day."

That confidence was emanating.

"Derrick is probably one of the best leaders I’ve been around, ever," said senior Jamil Wilson. "I think him and his family background, both his parent’s being in the military has a huge deal to do with that discipline wise. As far as his growth on the court, a way better shooter. I think you only saw him in glimpses last year because of Junior a lot of people don’t know everything he’s capable of.

"I would say Derrick’s a phenomenal player. He’s great at what he does on both sides of the floor. He doesn’t try to extend out of his range too much. He knows exactly what he can do and what he can’t do. I feel he does a great job with staying in his limits. He’s become a lot more confident in himself which gives confidence to our team. I feel like he’s going to be at the head of a lot of things we do this year."

Then, in practice, the wins starting coming.

"Derrick’s been great," senior Davante Gardner said. "He came over and took over Junior’s spot. He gets the job done. He developed an offensive game and he also has the defense so he’ll be good this year. He’s very good offensive (player). Every time in practice his team always wins, so there’s something about that."

Williams took notice, too.

"I can’t argue that. He’s right. He’s right," Williams said of Gardner’s revelation of what goes on behind closed doors. "And it’s not necessarily because of Derrick’s statistics. That’s what’s peculiar, in a way. You want him – the same thing that I would say when I was sticking up for Junior – like you wish he was a little faster or a little prettier or could whatever, don’t turn it over as much, but you win 97 games in four years. A lot of that is going on in practice. Change the team, change the lineup, mix and match, Derrick’s team wins.

"Well, at the very end of it all that’s how we’re judged in some respects. So, Davante’s right about that."

Now, as the Golden Eagles prepare for their annual game against Bo Ryan’s 10th-ranked and undefeated Wisconsin Badgers in Madison on Saturday afternoon, wins are starting to come with the lights on. It’s not been all smooth sailing, however, but they’re coming.

Marquette is 5-3, having lost to a top 10 team in Ohio State at home, a very good Arizona State by two points on the road, and then fell to Steve Fisher’s San Diego State University squad on Sunday, a program that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season.

Wilson is only averaging 5 points, 4.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game in 24.7 minutes, but as recent history has shown, Marquette’s point guards don’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet, but fill up the win column.

Part of that is not turning the ball over, and he has done that just nine times in seven games while handing out 32 assists. But, going forward, part of winning will be taking – and making – big shots. Cadougan eventually did that. Sometimes, that requires a bit more risk-taking, and is the next step in the process for Wilson.

"I think it’s just going back to the way I was more in high school, not thinking as much," Wilson said. "When you’re younger and you come into a program like this and everything is so organized – I’m very organized and I don’t like when things get out of whack, or when mistakes happen – so I think as far as playing I tried not to make mistakes. I didn’t take chances. And sometimes you have to take chances in this game.

"And, in anything I think you have to take chances in order to be successful, and I think that’s what I have to do this year, as far as shooing the ball and making certain passes or hitting those home run plays."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.