For Marquette, Wojo was the Perfect Fit

For Marquette, Wojo was the Perfect Fit

He doesn't have the flash of Shaka Smart, the resume of Ben Howland or Gregg Marshall, or the recent success of Cuonzo Martin, but Steve Wojciechowski was just right for Marquette University.

Of all the names listed above, Wojciechowski is the only one without any head coaching experience, technically. "Wojo" has been the associate head coach at Duke University since 1999, learning from one of the greatest men's basketball coaches in NCAA history, Mike Krzyzewski.

Although Wojciechowski hasn't led a program of his own, he has had plenty of responsibilities that are similar to what a head coach does, such as show appearances and halftime interviews. Many say Duke recruits for itself, but Wojciechowski also had an instrumental role in recruiting players such as Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, two players who hail from the Chicagoland area.

"Steve has been a head coach," Jeff Capel III, who played and coached with Wojciechowski for six years, told OnMilwaukee.com. "It's just he hasn't run his own program. But he's had some of the same responsibilities that a lot of head coaches have had, or have."

Wojciechowski confessed at his introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon that he had multiple opportunities to leave Duke, but only came "close" to leaving once. The fact that he made this move to Marquette shows just how interested he is in the program and how much he plans to invest into it.

"I wasn't going to leave for just any job," Wojciechowski said. "I was only going to leave for the job that I thought is the perfect job for me and I feel Marquette is that place."

The Golden Eagles have been down this road before with assistant coaches getting their big breaks. Marquette hired Tom Crean away from Michigan State in 1999 and replaced him by promoting assistant Buzz Williams in 2008. Those two coaches combined to go 329-165 at Marquette with 10 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Wojciechowski is a much bigger name than both Crean and Williams were when they were hired. He has more connections to the national media and recruits than Crean and Williams did when they arrived in Milwaukee.

Interim athletic director Bill Cords told the audience at the Al McGuire Center that Wojciechowski was well endorsed by Jerry Colangelo and Coach K and mentioned that the 37-year-old coach earned the respect of some of the NBA's best during his experience as an assistant on the Beijing and London Olympic teams. The players mentioned were LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Marquette alum Dwyane Wade.

"I think it's a great hire from the standpoint of, first of all, he's coming from an unbelievable, unbelievable background of coaches -- being coached under and with one of the best coaches of all time, a coach that I respect so much in Coach K," Wade told ESPN.com. "So I think it's going to be a challenge, but I think this a great hire and it's a hire of someone they could grow with, and you gotta have patience and I think that Marquette has that patience.

Wojciechowski is known as a fiery, excitable personality, who wants to play aggressive defense and run a high-paced offense. He said he believes basketball should be played "hard" all the time. This style not only illustrates his demeanor, but is a system that his players can buy into as well.

"I think it fits perfectly," point guard Derrick Wilson said. "I feel like I'm a pretty good defender and when I'm able to get stops we're able to get out on the break and that's when I feel like our game is at its best."

Wojo's playing style shows similarities with the man he is replacing, Buzz Williams, who loved to play aggressively and passionately on the defensive end. Unlike Williams, Wojciechowski has four years of playing experience at Duke to draw upon and also coached big men in Durham.

"I've had varied experiences as a coach," Wojciechowski told me after the press conference. "I played the perimeter position at a real high level, but I also have coached NBA players who have played in the post. I think really good coaches need to be able to coach all the positions, from the bigs to the smalls."

That's what intrigues me the most. Wojciechowski can teach Derrick Wilson or Todd Mayo how to better defend the perimeter, but he can also help Steve Taylor with his footwork down low, or develop Luke Fischer into a presence in the paint.

"I can learn a lot from an all-defensive guard," point guard John Dawson said. "I can also learn what the forwards like and how and where they like to get the ball and how they like to play."

Loyalty was another aspect Wojciechowski emphasized in his press conference. When asked about Marquette being seen as a stepping stone job, he wasn't shy to use his 15 years at Duke as an example of his allegiance to his new program.

"If you talk to people about me, I'm a very loyal guy and I have amazing loyalty to Duke University and Coach K," Wojciechowski said. "I can't wait to have that same loyalty to Marquette and this program."

Whether or not Wojo sticks around if he gains an abundance of success is a question for another day. But for right now, Marquette might have hit a home run. After a tumultuous and disappointing season that resulted in the exodus of a man who didn't feel loved anymore, Marquette found stability in a man who will love this program as much as he cherished the school he spent more than half his life with.

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