By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Mar 04, 2015 at 1:03 PM


It’s a word often bandied about in sports, especially when it comes to players becoming a star, or a key contributor to a team.

The difference of talent, in many cases, between a starter and the man buried on the bench is often very thin.

This is especially true in professional sports – it’s why you so often hear about an All-Star-caliber player emerging from the pool of the undrafted, or the guy coming off the bench becoming an indispensable part of a winning team.

The margin is a little larger in college sports, just because of the math. There are more teams, and therefore more roster spots that need to be filled.

But, to a man, every player at every level feels that if they are just given an opportunity to play, to show their stuff, the chance to run out there game in, game out, they can show the world just how good they are. That they are a difference maker, a star-in-waiting.

Rarely does it work that way.

That hasn’t been the case this year at Marquette University, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the more unique seasons in the program’s long history.

Before the year even began, a scoring guard (Todd Mayo) opened up an opportunity in the backcourt. Then, a highly regarded combo player in Deonte Burton transferred out early in the season.

Suddenly, plenty of minutes could be had amongst just a handful of players.

Opportunity called.

"We’ve challenged them to step up and take advantage of the opportunity," head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "This is an opportunity that guys want. Or they say they want. It’s there for ‘em. Our guys have made some improvements and they need to get getting better with game experience. When you’re playing young guys, that at times can be challenging, but if we use it the right way and we improve and they put a little hair on their chest, not only does it serve dividends now, but certainly in the future."

Redshirt freshman Duane Wilson is averaging 28.7 minutes of action in his first season of college basketball, while sophomore Luke Fischer is seeing 28.5 minutes per game after seeing just 10 minutes per game for Indiana University last season before transferring.

Sophomore Jajuan Johnson is averaging 22.3 minutes per game, up nearly 10 minutes from the action he saw last year under Buzz Williams. True freshman Sandy Cohen III did get some early season starts and is seeing about 16 minutes of game action.

"For young guys to gain experience, we’re looking at that as a positive," Wojciechowski said of their minutes. "Now, we want them to play well with that experience and not just be out on the floor and playing."

Now, one might be able to argue if this quartet of players have indeed improved from the beginning of the year until now, rather than just sort of "being" out on the court.

There have been flashes. Fischer began his year dominating opponents, but once teams realized his skill level around the basket, double-teams came often and quickly and he’s struggled in Big East play.

Duane Wilson has also shown flashes of being a very good player, but he’s been pressed into more of a scoring role this season as opposed to being a facilitator. He’s also just shooting 39 percent from the field. Johnson is shooting just 38 percent. Cohen III, as one might expect, has played unevenly.

"We’ve been kind of thrown right into the fire," Fischer said. "A lot of us didn’t really get a chance to play a lot last year as freshman, or whatever you want to call it, and we had to learn on the go. At this point in the season, we know what to expect. There are still some games and some times in games where you can tell that we still have to grow up a little bit. But that’s all part of it. We have to break that habit and be able to be more physical at times or know what to do and not have an excuse or anything like that."

That said, the effort can’t be questioned. Despite a losing record in the Big East, the young and undermanned Golden Eagles have played hard. Before leading scorer Matt Carlino was injured, you could say Marquette wasn’t in just two of the 10 Big East games they played.

Keeping up, especially offensively, has been tougher since. But, of Marquette’s conference losses, five have been by two possessions or less and they’ve pushed Georgetown and Villanova as far as they could at home.

"For our younger guys, it’s going to help them in the future," said assistant coach Chris Carrawell. "The Duane Wilson’s, the Luke Fischer’s, the Sandy’s. Those guys playing in games like that right now – hey – it might be tough this year, but in the figure, we’re going to win those games. That’s the most important thing. Yeah, you want to win them now, and I feel like we will a couple in the present future, but moving ahead, moving ahead, that experience is invaluable."

Added Wojciechowski: "With young guys, sometimes you don't know when it’s going to click, so that can be unpredictable. But I think with some of our younger guys they’re starting to feel more comfortable, their starting to know what it takes to be successful in the Big East conference.

"We’re continuing to move forward with the growth mindset. We want to continue to improve, to grow, and hopefully some of those close losses, with improvement, will turn into wins."

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.