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It’s Becoming Clear That Marquette Has A Retention Problem

What exactly is causing that problem? I have no idea, which only makes it worse.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Levin. Sandy Cohen. Henry Ellenson. Wally Ellenson. Traci Carter. Haanif Cheatham. Harry Froling. Sam Hauser. Joey Hauser. Ed Morrow. Brendan Bailey.

Steve Wojciechowski has been the head coach of Marquette men’s basketball since April 1, 2014. He has compiled an overall record of 115-81 in that time, with a Big East league record of 51-57. During his tenure, as of right this moment and not counting anyone for 2020-21, Wojciechowski has brought a total of 26 scholarship recruited players to campus, either by way of high school recruiting or by transfer. Seven of those guys are currently on the active roster right this second. 11 of the other 19 — 58% — have left the team before their eligibility was completed.

Gabe Levin. Sandy Cohen. Henry Ellenson. Wally Ellenson. Traci Carter. Haanif Cheatham. Harry Froling. Sam Hauser. Joey Hauser. Ed Morrow. Brendan Bailey.

Just three players from his first two official full recruiting classes — Matt Heldt, Sacar Anim, and Markus Howard — the only two classes to have had four years on campus so far — have finished their eligibility. That’s three out of eight, and I don’t know how to tell you that getting less than 50% of your high school recruits to the end of their collegiate eligibility is bad other than saying “It’s bad.” That very bad percentage actually gets worse if you go ahead and tack Sandy Cohen onto the pile, as Wojciechowski ultimately chose to/had to re-recruit Cohen to the roster after the coaching transition.

I haven’t even added in the fact that there are five players inherited from Buzz Williams — Todd Mayo, Deonte Burton, John Dawson, Steve Taylor, and Duane Wilson — that didn’t make it to the end of their eligibility under Wojciechowski as well. I feel that’s a little unfair to Wojciechowski to knock him for guys he didn’t recruit leaving the program, but two of them did leave after just one semester under the new leadership when no one would have blamed anyone for guys leaving amidst the coaching changeover. That’s a total of 16 players that have up and left Marquette for one reason or another when they still had the ability to keep playing college basketball in front of them.

16 players in six seasons.

To steal a line from Vince Lombardi: What the hell is going on out there?

It seems wildly obvious at this point that something is going on with Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski and his ability to recruit and then retain players on his roster. About three and a half years ago, I penned this article titled Panicking About Marquette Basketball Transfers Is Probably The Wrong Move. I stand by that opinion for the current situation in December 2016. At the time, it came in the wake of Traci Carter’s departure from the program, which itself came less than a month after Sandy Cohen’s departure from the program. It was something of a “well, let’s all calm down now, it’s been 20 months since the coaching change, most of this is just aftershocks of a new coach building a program in his image” idea.

Seven players have left the program since then, with six of them being Wojciechowski recruits. Seven departures in the last three and a half years. Seven departures since the midway point of Wojciechowski’s first NCAA tournament season at Marquette. It should have been a moment where Wojciechowski was starting to send his version of Marquette basketball on an ascent, but it’s very clearly been anything but since then. The seven departures have been happening alongside an NIT appearance and back-to-back horrifying collapses down the stretch. Two of the departures have happened since the calendar turned to 2020, and the last four all happened within 12 months of each other, all of them coming after the first of the two horrifying collapses.

Look, maybe this is wrong headed to put all of this at Wojciechowski’s feet. After all, I am including Henry Ellenson leaving for a guaranteed NBA Draft first round paycheck in the math. That was always going to be the outcome to the 2015-16 season, and it’s probably unfair to Wojciechowski to hold that against him. It’s also probably unfair to give him static for Deonte Burton’s decision to leave Marquette after his mother passed away right before the start of his sophomore season after a battle with cancer. The last thing the guy wanted was to be in Milwaukee, and that has nothing to do with anything Wojciechowski was or was not doing as steward of the Golden Eagles. Duane Wilson earned his degree at Marquette, and then elected to grad transfer to Texas A&M. Can’t really assign any fault to anyone there, but we do have to point out that Marquette was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, while Texas A&M had just missed the tourney for the fifth time in six seasons under Billy Kennedy.

Still, though. That’s a lot of turnover. That’s a lot of problems. That’s a lot of seemingly unnecessary tumult. That’s a lot of constant reimagining of the roster. That’s a lot of adjusting and recreating and redesigning plans on the fly. That’s a lot of plastering over problems with grad transfers, and let’s just say that Wojciechowski’s success rate at integrating those guys into his rosters is a little scattershot at best.

I’m left with the feeling that something’s wrong. Something rotten in the state of Denmark, as it were. The back-to-back collapses down the stretch while we were witnessing the greatest scorer in program history only ladles more of that feeling into the stewpot. Not only does it feel like something’s wrong, but it feels like the something that is wrong is now destroying seasons from the inside as well. Not only does it feel like something is wrong, it also feels like a “this is how it is” situation, and there’s nothing that anyone can do to fix it. It feels like this just going to be the way it is as long as Steve Wojciechowski is still the head men’s basketball coach at Marquette.

I don’t know what it is. I’m not in the locker rooms. I’m not in the practices. I’m not on the recruiting trips. I don’t know what it is that seems to be clearly causing some kind of disconnect between Wojciechowski and the players that he recruits. I don’t even know if it’s one thing in particular. It’s probably not. It might not even be something that can be fixed.

All we’re left with is the ability to cross our fingers that Marquette’s incoming top 20 recruiting class is going to be able to make an impact as soon as there is college basketball again and the pleasant thought that we can enjoy the ongoing 2 for $6 special at Arby’s.