REINER: Basketball in Milwaukee rejuvenated thanks to young talent

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REINER: Basketball in Milwaukee rejuvenated thanks to young talent

Marquette men's basketball huddles during a break in the action at DePaul. (Photo by Francesca Reed / francesca.reed@marquette.edu)

Marquette men's basketball huddles during a break in the action at DePaul. (Photo by Francesca Reed / francesca.reed@marquette.edu)

Marquette men's basketball huddles during a break in the action at DePaul. (Photo by Francesca Reed / francesca.reed@marquette.edu)

Marquette men's basketball huddles during a break in the action at DePaul. (Photo by Francesca Reed / francesca.reed@marquette.edu)

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The Milwaukee Bucks opened training camp Monday with all eyes on forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Both are just 19 years old, but they’re already embracing their roles on the big stage. The young duo is expected to lead the team statistically, but more importantly, they’re leading the revitalization of basketball in Milwaukee.

To put it nicely, Milwaukee suffered through a miserable basketball season last year. The Bucks finished an NBA-worst 15-67 and Marquette’s men’s team went 17-15, missing all postseason tournaments. Milwaukeeans had to cheer for an unlikely Wisconsin-Milwaukee men’s team in the NCAA Tournament.

Yet, after their respective dismal seasons, the Bucks and the Golden Eagles were able to address much-needed changes in the offseason. The Bucks took Parker with the second overall pick in the draft, while Marquette hired Steve Wojciechowski from Duke after Buzz Williams’ departure.

Wojciechowski takes over a Marquette program with only three seniors and 10 active players on the roster, with two more players sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules. However, he’s landed three four-star recruits for 2015, with the realistic possibility of national consensus top-5 big man Henry Ellenson joining the group. The Rice Lake, Wis. product trimmed his list of schools to Marquette, Kentucky and Michigan State. A lack of depth and experience may restrain the Golden Eagles this year, but fans should be excited about the long run for Marquette basketball.

The Bucks, meanwhile, have a median age of just 23.8, the youngest in the NBA. They have three teenagers on the roster – Parker, Antetokounmpo and rookie Damien Inglis – outnumbering Marquette’s two: Sandy Cohen and John Dawson.

Last season, Antetokounmpo became a national phenomenon on a team with little to get excited about. Now, with the addition of Parker, the Bucks have a frontcourt in which the two can grow together. It will surely take time for the players to develop, but Parker and “The Greek Freak”  could become a dangerous duo in the near future.

The Golden Eagles and the Bucks also share a newfound bond with Wojciechowski and Parker both in Milwaukee. Wojciechowski coached the now-pro at Duke in his lone NCAA season, and the two have a close friendship.

Wojciechowski could now use his connection to Parker as an enticing recruiting mechanism going forward. Parker was present for Henry Ellenson’s official visit to Marquette Sept. 26 –  an exciting factor for any high school player. Parker also reportedly mentioned he will try to make an appearance at Marquette Madness Oct. 10. If the young star can continue to consistently volunteer his time to Marquette, Wojciechowski will have an advantage unlike any program in the country.

“I come from an environment where the expectation is to win, and that is why I chose Marquette,” Wojciechowski said at his introductory press conference last May.

Two months later, Antetokounmpo tweeted: “I’ll never leave the team and the city of Milwaukee till we build the team to a championship level.”

Wojciechowski and Antetokounmpo show strong commitments to basketball in Milwaukee. And with the new youth movement underway, it’s hard not to believe them.

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