Player Reviews From Italy Trip

Author: Dave Klinger (Editor), Photo: Marquette Athletics.

Marquette just concluded its basketball trip in Italy, in which it finished 4-0 against foreign teams that ranged from decent to poor competition. It was a great team bonding experience and a chance to practice the offensive and defensive concepts the staff introduced in the valuable ten full-team practices that the trip allows. Although it’s nearly impossible to gauge season predictions based off the final scores and statistics of the four games, each match allowed us to glimpse and carefully critique each player’s movements and approach to the game (and how the group moved and carried itself as a whole). Let’s look at the players and briefly summarize how each one fared on the foreign courts.

Henry Ellenson, freshman forward

Stunning. Henry Ellenson fulfilled his billing as one of the top ten recruits in the country. It’s not as important that he was the leading scorer for the trip rather than how he acted and moved on the hardwood. At 6’11”, he ran the floor like a guard and at times led the fast-break offense with the ball in his hands. His length and athleticism allowed him to run past the defense and grab rebounds in traffic, but more importantly his elite skills allowed him to utilize his footwork in the paint, see the floor and command the offense, drop shots ranging from baby hooks to deep threes, and dribble the ball past defenders (whether with crossovers, through-the-legs or behind-the-back maneuvers). Remember, kids, this guy is 245 pounds. If you want proof of his performance, check out this article from Paint Touches that was dedicated to his play. And if you’re too lazy to click, here’s a short clip:

Be sure to check it out before the season ends, because after that I’m almost positive he’ll be donning an NBA uniform rather than a Marquette one.

Duane Wilson, sophomore guard

Duane Wilson was also spectacular, yet in his own way. He showcased speed, shooting ability and a diverse skill set, but the most important part of his game was his vocal leadership. Henry Ellenson may be the most talented player, but this is Duane’s team. He made his teammates better with his presence on the court. He is familiar with playing in Wojo’s system and, instead of drifting to his high school habits like he did last year, he seemed to command the college offense and defense himself. If he wasn’t shooting well, he still made the right decisions through passing, moving and shot selection. He even yelled at someone for missing a defensive rotation. We haven’t had one since Vander Blue, but I think it’s safe to consider Duane Wilson as a strong candidate to be “the guy.”

Definition of “the guy”: The best basketball player on the team. Not always the most talented or most efficient, but he makes his teammates better with fierce leadership and consistent execution. “The guy” is typically a fearless guard who will not hesitate to sprint down the floor and sink a thirty-footer to end the game. He doesn’t always take the last shot — sometimes it’s better for “the guy” the be a decoy and utilize his teammates’ talent — but he is always a threat and he always relishes the opportunity.

Luke Fischer, junior center

Fischer was a consistent, efficient threat under the hoop last year, but he was hampered for the majority of the season by a torn labrum in his shoulder. He had offseason surgery and is now fully healthy in both physical and mental terms (without the pain, he has the confidence to bump around and play harder, unlike last year). He didn’t necessarily guide the offense like Duane Wilson, he rather anchored it with high-quality reliability on both ends on the floor. Fischer will start every game this season and will continue to impress with his leadership and talent under the hoop.

Sandy Cohen, sophomore small forward

Cohen wasn’t a prolific scorer but he displayed a “starting five” confidence that he greatly lacked last year as a freshman. He was always in the right place at the right time and definitely looked as if he belonged on the court with the best players surrounding him. He also showed off newfound athletic ability in driving to the hoop and running the floor, which confirmed reports that he vastly improved in the weight room over the offseason. Cohen’s still a great shooter waiting for himself to develop as his career evolves, but he definitely showed improvement over the trip and will very likely be in the starting lineup.

Jajuan Johnson, junior guard

Johnson disappointed in the first game but showed small flashes of talent and improvement in the next three games. He worked in the offseason to improve his atrocious jump shot (in which he nearly shot the ball with a sideways backspin to 37% FG and 22% 3PT last year) and it definitely looked more fluid and mechanically sound. Take a look below:

That was, however, where his flashes stopped. In the second game, he ran the floor with speed and efficiency and even dove for a loose ball (which made Wojo and the bench lose their minds, of course) but his play didn’t really expand beyond that. He never started and didn’t see the floor as much as other guys like Wilson, Cohen or even Traci Carter. With Haanif Cheatham entering the mix in the regular season, Johnson would have to step up his play to become a consistent contributor to this team. Considering how much Wojo is a fan of Cohen and Cheatham (and Carter when he’s not playing recklessly), I’m not sure that will happen.

Traci Carter, freshman point guard

This dude can HOOP. He is not only confident in leading the offense, defense and fast-break, but absolutely fearless in doing so — which, at times, had him playing into trouble. His always-sprinting style of basketball will have to expand into a multi-geared machine, in which he can change speeds when it is time to adjust. He makes big-time plays on defense — on countless occasions he pick-pocketed ball-handlers and swarmed the passing lanes for steals — and hit some difficult shots on offense, like floaters and contested threes. There is a fine line between making good and bad decisions within that style of play, however, and he will need to be taught that as the season progresses. Once he learns how to change speeds, he will become not only a good player for Marquette but a phenomenal point guard in every sense of the word.

Sacar Anim, freshman guard

Wojo tabbed Anim (pronounced like “ann-um,” not “a-neem”) as Marquette’s best athlete and he definitely fit that mold with his play in Italy. The staff likes to experiment with him since his athleticism and solid skills allow him to be versatile. They’ve even tried him at power forward in a small-ball lineup. Although I don’t think that will last, it shows how much trust they have in him as a player. He saw decent minutes, appearing on the floor here and there, and looked solid in general. He hit a few shots, including some threes — nothing too flashy or involved, but also nothing bad, really. He’ll develop as a good role player or second-to-third option in a few years. For now, expect him to come off the bench to hit a few shots and play good defense.

Wally Ellenson, junior small forward

The elder Ellenson, a 6’6″ guard slash forward, is an Olympic-level high jumper in track and field. This athleticism translates to the court, on which he plays tenacious on-ball defense and makes big plays in transition (see: fast-break posterizers in Italy). His defense isn’t as smart as it should be — which made him foul out early in the first game — but he should provide some good energy off the bench and off the court. I don’t expect him to play much or even look like a Division I basketball player for a majority of his time on the hardwood, but I approve of his addition to the team for the sake of the fast-break offense, the chemistry of the team, the Marquette track and field program and, of course, his younger brother.

Matt Heldt, freshman power forward and center

Heldt rarely saw the floor, but his play and effort was satisfying whenever he did. Although he didn’t record many statistics in the box score, he was active on offense and defense and the staff surely loved that. I expect him to enter the game briefly whenever Henry and Luke need breaks. It seems he will develop into a solid big by the time he’s an upperclassman.

Haanif Cheatham, freshman guard

Since the NCAA was too slow in approving his papers, Cheatham had to sit on the bench throughout the entire trip. They finally approved him for eligibility almost immediately after Marquette played its last game — which really, really sucks — but it made for a great moment after the win.

Side note: The form and execution on that bro hug was incredible!!

Andrew Rowsey, redshirt junior guard

As a transfer, he’s not eligible to play this season and wasn’t allowed to travel with the team to Italy. Bummer.

Cam Marotta, Michael Mache, Christian Haffner, walk-ons

The big three. The Three Amigos part dos. These guys are the anchor of the bench and will certainly lead the league in high fives. I, along with the Marquette and national college basketball fan base, have high expectations for these dudes. We expect walk-on All-American play on and off the practice courts and nothing less. Go get ’em, boys. No pressure. (But actually, like, there is no pressure at all).

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