Wojciechowski takes competitive spirit to Marquette
In Steve Wojciechowski’s 19 years at Duke as a player and coach—the majority of his life—he embodied the program’s image. If somebody owned a trademark on floor slapping, it would Wojciechowski.
Now Wojciechowski has finally found his opportunity to shape his own program at Marquette, where he was introduced Tuesday as the program’s 17th head basketball coach. The former Duke assistant replaces Buzz Williams who left for the same position at Virginia Tech.
No, “Wojo” may no longer slap the floor—“I don’t know if I can get down low enough,” he said at his introductory press conference—but his overwhelming competitiveness has defined him as both a player and assistant coach, a trait he will bring to his new home in Milwaukee.
“I’m as competitive as they come,” he said. “I want to win every day. I want them to win every day as basketball players, I want them to win every day as students, I want them to win everyday most importantly as people.”
That competitive pedigree separated Wojciechowski from the other finalists, all of whom had previously held head coaching positions, Marquette president-elect Michael Lovell said.
To understand Wojciechowski’s competitiveness, one just has to play pick-up basketball with him, said Chris Spatola, who sat on the Duke bench beside Wojciechowski when Spatola was the team’s director of basketball operations through the 2011-12 season.
“We would always debate whether or not you could take a charge in a pick-up game,” said Spatola, who now serves as a special assistant to athletic director Kevin White and works for CBS Sports. “He would always take a charge.”
Wojciechowski’s hallmark as a player was that relentless desire on defense. Though he never averaged more than seven points per game as a Blue Devil, he won the 1998 National Defensive Player of the Year award and frustrated countless opposing guards.
As an assistant, he tried to instill that same grit in his players, only he primarily worked with Duke’s big men, not the perimeter players. An odd sight to many—the 5-foot-11 former guard coaching players often a foot taller than him—Wojciechowski has overseen the development of a number of forwards and centers who now play professionally, from Mason and Miles Plumlee to Shelden Williams.
“If any big guy would have his mentality or would have played the way Steve played the game they’d be unstoppable,” Spatola said. “He basically injected that into Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek, and that’s why we ended up being national champions [in 2010].”
Part of what has made Wojciechowski an attractive coaching candidate—to both Marquette and other previously interested schools—has been that he has spent his entire 19 years in college basketball learning from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Wojciechowski even sounded like Krzyzewski at times during the presser, perhaps something he perfected while subbing in for halftime television interviews. His experience with Krzyzewski allowed him to work with the U.S. Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012, helping coach the NBA’s biggest stars to consecutive gold medals.
Marquette interim athletic director Bill Cords said he spoke to both Krzyzewski and USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo before hiring Wojciechowski. Cords said Krzyzewski told him, “I have become a better coach because of Steve being beside me,” and that endorsement spoke volumes.
Wojciechowski joked that his first question for Krzyzewski when he called his mentor to inform him about the job was if Krzyzewski would become his top assistant.
“He told me I couldn’t afford him,” Wojciechowski said.
Filling out a staff is just one of the many tasks ahead for Wojciechowski, who inherits a Marquette team that went 17-15 this season and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Wojciechowski will also have to secure the five-man recruiting class that Williams brought in, which features shooting guard Ahmed Hill, the No. 86 recruit in the country according to ESPN. Lovell noted Wojciechowski’s recruiting abilities in his remarks, saying he “just recruited the top class in the country at Duke.”
But unlike at many major conference schools, developing a basketball culture at Marquette will not be a problem. The Golden Eagles do not have a football team and few programs commit as much money to its basketball program as Marquette, which doled out $10.7 million for its basketball program last year. According to Department of Education data, that would have ranked fourth in the ACC, trailing only Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Duke.
“I come from a place where the students at the university and the basketball team are one,” Wojciechowski said. “That’s what I want to do here.”
This marks the second consecutive year that a top Duke assistant has earned a high-profile job after Chris Collins departed a year ago for Northwestern.
Associate head coach Jeff Capel and assistant coach Nate James are the remaining assistant coaches, and special assistant Jon Scheyer may potentially be in line for a promotion to assistant coach with Wojciechowski’s departure.
“Steve gave his heart and soul to me, our program, our community and Duke for 20 years,” Krzyzewski said in a press release. “He was a vital part of the successes we have had. He made me better every day, and I know that he will make Marquette and the Milwaukee community better every day.”