MILWAUKEE (AP) — Buzz Williams' voice sounded a little hoarse. Just about 10 minutes into his first news conference of the season, and Marquette's chatty, intense coach needed a bottle of water.
And it's still a month to go until the ball tips off on the new season.
"I coach those guys like we're in last place," Williams said Friday at the McGuire Center during the team's preseason media day. "I wake up every morning like we're in last place."
But the Golden Eagles can usually be found closer to the top of the standings, playing deep into March. Last year, they advance to the NCAA tournament regional finals before getting ousted by Syracuse, 55-39.
New season, new team, new-look league.
Gone are the starting guard trio of Trent Lockett, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue, the team's leading scorer (14.8 points per game) who bypassed his final year of eligibility to go pro.
Also gone is the old Big East, replaced by the new basketball-centric league working under the same name.
But that trademark toughness remains at Marquette, which finished 26-9, 14-4 in conference. The Golden Eagles ranked third in the Big East last year in field goal defense at 45.7 percent.
"It might look a little different, but we'll still try to get out and run and we're going to defend to the best of our ability," forward Jamil Wilson said. "I don't think the plan changes even though some pieces might look different."
Marquette should be strong and experienced up front, returning its top two rebounders in the 6-foot-7 Wilson (4.9 per game) and 6-foot-8 Davante Gardner (4.8). They're also the top two returning scorers with Gardner at 11.5 points and Wilson at 9.7 points.
Todd Mayo (5.3 points), who is coming back from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, will be called on to replace Blue. Mayo is excited that his older brother, guard O.J. Mayo, signed a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, they'll play their home games on the same floor at the Bradley Center.
At point guard, Derrick Wilson takes over for the trusted Cadougan. Coach and the replacement are working on forging a similar bond.
"I want to like the guy who's the lead guard, and I want to trust him," Williams said.
He does like Derrick Wilson's athleticism though. The 6-foot-1 point guard has a 215-pound frame that looks as if it's built to withstand taking a pounding driving to the basket.
"We're only as good ... as you are in that lane," said Williams, arms waving at his side while speaking under a basket, in recounting a conversation with the new lead guard.
September was tough for the team because of a lack of leadership, Williams said. But new voices have gradually started to have their voices heard, like senior center Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson.
Derrick Wilson, an even-keeled and well-spoken junior, also appears to have the traits to become Marquette's new general on the floor and in the locker room.
"Just communicating off the court as well, because on the court, I'm the second voice," he said at midcourt during media day. "He knows I know what to do out here. He knows I know where everybody's spot is supposed to be."
"If we don't handle things off the court, then you can't be on the court," he added.
Among the newcomers, Williams on Friday singled out freshman JaJuan Johnson, a 6-foot-5 guard out of Tennessee who looks as if he could grow into a tough perimeter matchup.
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The state Democratic Party is returning a $10,000 contribution from the chief executive of Comcast-Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, saying it has learned he could be a state contractor.
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