Wojciechowski’s squad prepares for season without Markus Howard

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Photo by Marquette Wire stock photo

Markus Howard (0) shoots 3-pointer in Marquette’s 71-60 upset over then-No. 10 Villanova Feb. 4.

For the first time since 2016, number zero will not be suiting up for the Golden Eagles as starting point guard.

“Obviously Markus was an incredible player for us and an incredible young man,” Marquette men’s basketball head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “You don’t replace him on the floor with one player. That would be impossible.”

Prior to his graduation this past spring, Markus Howard surpassed numerous records including becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer, setting a BIG EAST record with 13 Player of the Week honors, receiving John R. Wooden Award All-American honors, becoming the first player from Marquette to win the Senior CLASS Award and being the fourth player in program history to be a consensus First Team All-American from the Associated Press, Sporting News, USA Today, USBWA and NABC.

Throughout Howard’s four-year tenure, he captured 2019 BIG EAST Player of the Year honors in an unanimous decision, became the only player in the last 20 years with multiple 50-point games, owns 3-of-4 50-point games in BIG EAST history and was the fourth player in major conference history with 40 points on consecutive days. He is also the 72nd player in NCAA history with at least 2,500 career points — finishing 21st all-time with 2,761 points — and is tied for seventh in NCAA history with 434 career threes.

“I haven’t really looked at film of (Marquette) yet, but I can tell you, it was a nightmare watching film getting ready for them with Markus Howard,” Villanova men’s basketball head coach Jay Wright said. “He was one of the toughest guards. He and Myles Powell were just so difficult to prepare for. It makes a major difference.”

In terms of his play, last season the Chandler, Arizona native was the nation’s leading scorer with 27.8 points per game and broke the BIG EAST record of points per game in conference play, averaging 28.7 points per game.

“You don’t plug in another 26, 27 point-a-game scorer,” Wojciechowski said. “You have to take up those losses collectively, especially on the offensive end. In that respect, there are some exciting things to that.”

Balance. That’s the word both Wojciechowski and Wright used to describe this non-Markus Howard led team.

“They’ve got a lot of good players coming back,” Wright said. “Balance is good, but having a great player that’s unstoppable is really good too. This year it’s going to be a little different that way in dealing with some really good players and a lot of balance.”

One of those returning players is redshirt senior guard Koby McEwen, who transferred from Utah State in 2018. Last season, the 6-foot-4 guard from Toronto started in all 29 games he played in, reached a double-double in seven straight league games and finished 12th in the BIG EAST with 3.2 assists per game.

“The dynamic of our team, especially in the backcourt, is going really well,” McEwen said. “We have a lot of good guards on our team — D.J. (Carton), Greg (Elliott), Symir (Torrence), Dexter (Akanno). We have a lot of guards that bring a lot of different things to the table and that will just give us different looks offensively and defensively. That’s something that can only help us, I’m really excited for it.”

As far as if the team still keeps up with Howard, seniors Jamal Cain and Theo John said they have been checking in with him. McEwen said Howard was always the one to check up on the team constantly and that he will be ready for whatever comes next in his journey.

“I was just talking to Markus last night. With college basketball, you leave with brothers — people who you genuinely care about and you see as almost family,” John said. “It’s more than the team when we’re just out there. So that continues on even after guys leave, I mean Markus, Sac (Anim), Ed (Morrow), Jayce (Johnson). There are many nights where I’m talking to those guys.”

All three — Cain, John and McEwen — learned from Howard’s leadership style.

“What I learned from Markus is how to handle the pressure of just being a basketball player,” McEwen said. “He was someone who valued family, who valued God, who valued his brotherhood. … He kept that in the front of his mind the whole time he was here and it really helped him become a better basketball player, a better student, become a better leader.”

Not only did Howard perform on the court, he also was very invested in his faith. He started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Marquette. Howard also used his platform to speak out about mental health.

“He was a very vocal advocate about mental health of not only himself, but all student-athletes,” Wojciechowski said.

McEwen said Howard was one of the most disciplined players in terms of going to sleep on time, eating nutritious foods, working on his body or getting extra shots up.

“How little of error there is for mistakes,” McEwen said. “When it came to Markus, he rarely made any, so that’s why he got all the accolades that he did and that’s why he had all the success that he had in college.”

What Howard taught Cain was to be himself. That lesson is something Cain is trying to talk to his younger teammates about — not putting too much pressure on themselves.

“With all the attention he gets and all the stuff he achieves, he still remains to be himself,” Cain said. “He never changed. He was never too high (or) too low. … It’s basketball. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to fail, but it’s how you correct that and it’s how you come back from that.”

McEwen said there’s a lot of motivation to show that Marquette can win without Howard.

“Markus got a lot of attention, which was most deserved,” McEwen said. “But there is a lot of motivation to continue that level of success that we’ve had with him and now to be without him, it’s a huge motivation piece right there.”

Wojciechowski said he likes the depth of his team and how there are a lot of players who can make significant impacts on the court.

“We’ll look different on both ends of the floor than we did with Markus and time will tell if that’s better,” Wojciechowski said. “We can score in a lot of different ways and we have defensive versatility. I’m hoping those things translate to a lot of wins.”

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford