Maybe they wanted to see what the new guy could do. Maybe he just happened to be standing at the front of the line. Whatever the reason, men’s basketball freshman Chris Wroblewski was the first player out in the first drill of the first basketball season of his collegiate career.
“My very first practice. My first official practice,” Wroblewski laughed at the thought.
It was a full court drill that started out as a one-on-one breakaway, then proceeded into a two-on-one breakaway, a three-on-two breakaway, etc.
“That was the first drill we did in the first practice,” he said.
And Chris was the first out, dribbling down as the offensive player. Lanky rising senior Andre Wilkins waited at the other end with five extra inches and 20 extra pounds.
“So I go down there and try to make a move for a layup,” Wroblewski said. “I’m going against Dre [Wilkins], and he just blocks it right back in my face. That was my first experience in practice.”
Wroblewski paused, then laughed again.
“It took me a while to recover from that.”
Welcome to Division I basketball.
But, 18 games into the season, there is no doubt that Wroblewski has recovered. Since Day 1, he has shown maturity and talent — even if he was forced to. With guard Adam Gore ‘09 lost until the Ivy season opener, it seemed Wroblewski would get a few more minutes. When reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, rising senior guard Louis Dale, went down with a hamstring injury, however, the Red had suddenly gone from guard-heavy, to guard-scarce.
“He was put in under the fire right away because of injuries,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “So what you’re seeing now is someone who’s played a lot of minutes against some very good competition, someone who’s very comfortable out there — more than he would have been if Lou hadn’t gotten hurt. He was very good right away and proved to all of us that he’d be able to help us.”
Logging the fourth-most minutes of anyone on the team, Wroblewski has put up effective, if not outstanding, numbers. He has the second-most assists on the team and is the sixth-leading scorer (5.9 points per game) — numbers befitting of a fifth starter or a sixth man.
But the Red doesn’t need pure production out of Wroblewski, Donahue said. It needs a good defender and a ball handler, a creator of opportunities and a someone to run the offense. Wroblewski has filled this role surprisingly well for the team.
“I think he’s learned to be very good very quickly,” Donahue said. “I wasn’t so sure that was going to be the case making the transition as a freshman. He’s really made the strides to be a very good defender. The other thing is that his floor game has been terrific.”
“I think [I’ve progressed] at slowing it down and getting more comfortable,” Wroblewski said. “I wasn’t seeing the whole floor and I was rushing. Now I’m more comfortable with the guys, I know the offense. I think that’s allowing me to see things better and see things develop.”
Indeed, there were times in the first few weeks of the season where Wroblewski seemed frantic. He air-balled a 3 mere minutes after entering his first game. Against Indiana, Wroblewski found a way to log 28 minutes and not make much impression, shooting 1-for-7 from the floor, turning it over three times to complement only two assists.
“I think the Indiana game, he’d probably like to have back,” Donahue said. “We were playing a string of hard games, and then you go to Indiana and I think unfortunately he struggled.”
But if Wroblewski was looking for respite after Indiana, he certainly didn’t get it in the form of Syracuse and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Jonny Flynn.
“That’s a heck of a week for a freshman to go through,” Donahue said.
And while his numbers — nine points, four assists to one turnover, 3-of-8 shooting — aren’t going to pop any eyes, Wroblewski cited it as one of his breakthrough games.
“[I felt comfortable during] the Syracuse game, just in terms of playing against guys of that caliber and guys like Johnny Flynn,” he said. “I really think I held my own. I had more confidence with the ball about not turning it over and knowing that I could get into the lane and create for others.”
“He came back and played terrifically against Syracuse,” Donahue said.
While Wroblewski wouldn’t have seen as much playing time had Dale started the season on the bench, Wroblewski’s productivity hasn’t diminished since Dale’s return in the Minnesota game.
“I think I’ve gotten better now that he’s back,” Wroblewski said. “… Going against him in practice everyday does at times hurt the self-esteem a little bit. He’s definitely exposed me, but it’s made me better in the long run.”
And with Dale handling point duties most of the time, maybe Wroblewski might get some time to work on the one thing that sticks out on the stat sheet — shooting.
“I’m really not satisfied with the way I’m shooting,” Wroblewski said of his 40 percent from the floor, 36.4 from behind the arc and 63.3 from the line. “In part, that’s because initially early on, as a freshman…”
Wroblewski stopped himself.
“No that’s a terrible excuse, I’m not going to use the freshman excuse,” he said with a laugh. “It took me a while to adapt to the game and to get used to having a smaller window to get my shot off. I think it was getting used to that.”
Handle the ball, check. Defend, check. Finding his shot, well, one thing at a time. Right now, Wroblewski is, according to Donhue, the second-most trusted ball handler and perimeter defender down the stretch. His shot will come.
“I think the shooting will continue to get better as the season goes along,” Donahue said.
“[Donahue is] definitely helping me [with my shot], but he’s shown a lot of confidence in me,” Wroblewski said. “There’s no doubt in his mind that I’m a better shooter than what I’m showing and I’ll get back on track.”
And Wroblewski believes as much. He believes it enough to give himself a decent assessment when prompted.
“A B?” He said almost as a question after some hemming and hawing.
That’s not bad, especially at Cornell.
“A B- maybe,” he concluded.
“Yeah, that’s not bad.”
Certainly an understatement for the season he’s had thus far.