Dreams Lead Wheeling native Doug Wojcik To Final Four
Wheeling native is assistant with Michigan State
Doug Wojcik remembers it like it was yesterday.
A young, bright-eyed kid, who lived on Wheeling Island, getting up each morning and picking up his basketball and heading to the outdoor courts at Belle Isle to get some shots up.
“My dreams were probably a little bit bigger than most, but I was always dreaming of what could be,” Wojcik said.
Even in those adolscent years, Wojcik admits that he’s not sure he could have even dreamed up the career and success he’s had through basketball.
“It’s been a wild ride and journey,” Wojcik said. “There have been highs, lows and a lot of emotions.”
His basketball career includes his prep playing days at Wheeling Central, which culminated in a West Virginia state championship, playing at the Naval Academy where he was teammates with David Robinson, or a long coaching career that’s seen him serve as a head coach at Tulsa and College of Charleston along with assistant coaching stops at Navy, Notre Dame, Gonzaga, East Carolina and two tenures, including his present job, at Michigan State.
“My mom and dad grew up in Wheeling and never left, but I just decided to take on a really different path,” Wojcik said.
Wojcik’s current path is leading him to Minneapolis for tonight’s Final Four where Michigan State will take on Texas Tech in the second national semifinal.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Wojcik said. “What a run we’ve had.”
The Spartans have been playing at a high level since the season started in November, but have really turned it on the last month or so. Wojcik pointed out this five-week stretch for Sparty.
They won the regular season Big Ten championship by winning at Michigan. The following weekend won the Big Ten Tournament championship in Chicago.
But, Michigan State was awarded with No. 2 seed, which Wojcik said was a “wow” moment.
“We weren’t even off the floor from celebrating the Big Ten Championship after beating our rival for the third time in three weeks and we find out we’re a 2 seed in Duke’s bracket,” Wojcik said.
“We didn’t want to share at the time, but it did hit us as kind of a shock. We had 13 quad one wins and we were the only power conference team in the country to win our regular season and tournament championships, so we thought we had a chance at a No. 1 seed.”
Once the committee had spoken, the Spartans worried about just what they could control.
They then took down Bradley and Minnesota to reach the Sweet 16.
Last weekend in Washington D.C., all Michigan State did was oust LSU and then took down seemingly everyone’s pick to cut the nets down this weekend, Duke, which was led by consenus All-Americans Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, to clinch the Final Four berth.
“The big key for us (in the tournament) has been turnovers,” Wojcik said. “We only averaged seven turnovers a game in the regional. We felt like only us and Gonzaga had a guy who could play with Zion Williamson. We have Xavier Tillman and Gonzaga had Brandon Clarke, who actually started his career for my brother (Dave) at San Jose State. On top of guarding Zion, we knew we had to keep Barrett from getting downhill with his left hand. We did a decent job of that and we stayed connected. Plus, Cassius Winston, who has been special all season, controlled the game and tempo.”
This is Wojcik’s second trip to a Final Four as an assistant. He was a member of the Spartans’ staff in 2005 that advanced to St. Louis as a No. 5 seed before being eliminated, 87-71, by eventual champion North Carolina. Wojcik had actually helped recruit many of those Tar Heel players.
En route to that Final Four, Michigan State also took down Duke in the Elite 8.
“I take great pride knowing that Coach Izzo has beaten Duke twice and I’ve been on the staff both times,” Wojcik said.
Though the path has been similar and the stakes are identical, Wojcik hopes to be able to soak up more of the Final Four experience than he did during his first trip.
“This will be a different experience,” Wojcik said. “I had just been hired as the head coach at Tulsa in 05 and had been at UNC just a few years prior, so there was a lot on the plate. I really never left the hotel, but I think I’ll take more time to enjoy this one.”
As much as Wojcik hopes to enjoy and soak up some of the Final Four experience, he’s a coach and this isn’t a vacation.
“You definitely tend to get selfish because you have another game and hopefully another game (on Monday night),” Wojcik said. “When you take that mentality, it’s hard to do anything else other than prepare.”
And Wojcik knows plenty of preparation will be needed for a Texas Tech squad, which won the west regional by defeating top-seeded Gonzaga.
“They’re a really hard team to play because of the five-man motion they run,” Wojcik said. “It’s something that Bobby Knight used to run and not many other people do it. Plus, they have a (potential) top 10 (NBA) pick in (Jarrett) Culver and four graduate transfers who have 20 years of college basketball experience. This will be a hard-fought game.”
While Wojcik’s focus has been on the Red Raiders, he also had his eyes on New York City this weekend where his sons, Paxon and Denham, played in the Geico High School Nationals for La Lumiere.
“My wife flew to New York on Thursday and the boys played and they should be in Minneapolis by tipoff for our game,” Wojcik said. “My sons have been pursuing their own dreams. Our family has adapted to everything well. We’re definitely not a 9 to 5 kind of family.”