It was early in preseason conditioning drills when Marquette men's basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski brought out the bricks.
Each player had to hold bricks while doing defensive slides. There would be no doubt about Wojciechowski's emphasis heading into his fourth season at MU.
"I think more than anything, it was symbolic of 'Guys, we got to get better at the defensive end,'" Wojciechowski said during the team's media day on Monday. "When you do something that's out of the norm, it can drive home the point a little clearer."
"It's an old-school thing, a lot coaches in Baltimore used to do that," said Wojciechowski, who was a prep star at that city's Cardinal Gibbons High School in the early 1990s.
MU's statistics last season showed a striking disparity. Led by sharpshooters Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser, the Golden Eagles had a highly-efficient offense that scored 82.2 points per game (17th in the nation).
But on defense, MU allowed 75.6 points per game (259th in the nation). The Golden Eagles were No. 225 in defensive two-point field-goal percentage (50.6%) and No. 274 in three-point percentage (36.8%).
"It's not that we didn't emphasize (defense) last year, it just got to the point we were never consistently very good at it," said Wojciechowski, whose team finished 19-13 and lost to Final Four participant South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I think this team has the capability of being better defensively, from a personnel standpoint. I think there's things we are doing as a staff to help our guys have more success."
The four-man freshmen class certainly reflects Wojciechowski's commitment to defense.
Theo John (6-9, 245 pounds) is a rugged rebounder while Ike Eke (6-9, 225) profiles as a shot blocker. Jamal Cain (6-7, 190) and Greg Elliott, (6-3, 170) are long-limbed athletes who could help defend on the perimeter.
"It's no secret, if you watched us play last year, we were very small, but we were really skilled and we had the unique ability to shoot the ball," Wojciechowski said. "But we didn't necessarily have the balance that you strive to have and so we wanted to improve our size. We wanted to improve our athleticism, our length.
"I think those four guys kind of fit that box."
Cain, Elliott and Eke all hail from the Detroit area and played on the same AAU team. John is from Minneapolis.
They know what will earn them playing time this year.
"With my athleticism, I can get around the floor very easily and very quickly," Cain said. "So with (Wojciechowski) being so tough on defense, it makes me better because I'm such a good athlete."
Elliott could be used to spell likely backcourt starters Rowsey and Howard, who are both listed at 5-11.
"By me being a bigger guard, I can definitely help us on the defensive end," Elliott said.Cain and Elliott also will learn from junior Haanif Cheatham, probably the team's best returning perimeter defender.
"Whatever Coach Wojo asks me to do, defensive-wise, I'm willing to do it," Cheatham said. "Whether it's guarding the other team's best player or 2-3 zone. Whatever it takes to win is going to be done."
John said learning the defense "has been head-spinning at times but (Wojciechowski) makes sure he know what we're doing and what we're messing up on, so it's going to pay off when the season comes around."
Matt Heldt, who made seven starts at center as a sophomore last season, has been helping the young players adjust.
"Our leadership has been really good as far as getting them ready and making sure they know what is expected of them," Heldt said.
This article is written by Ben Steele from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.