The Right Stuff At The Wronk Time
The best chemists know the exact combination of elements required to produce their desired outcome. It requires a masterful touch, and coaches behave similarly.
Sometimes you work backwards in science. Knowing what goal needs to be achieved, they must use the resources on-hand to reach the final solution to their formula. Every year, coaches are asked to take all the pieces at their disposal to ultimately reach a championship. The smallest alterations can have a wild impact on the result. Care is required.
For the Ragin' Cajuns basketball team, the formula appears simple. Shawn Long fuels the team, but he requires a catalyst.
Things got a bit wild in the laboratory early in the season. An overloaded road schedule threatened to derail the "scientific" process, but the slightest touch from the head coach helped keep them on track. It came in the form of Steven Wronkoski, the most overlooked element in the Cajuns' formula for success.
Wronkoski's contributions might not pop off the stat sheet (4.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.5 apg), but he's a key cog nonetheless.
By the time he leaves UL, he will have played in more career games than any other Ragin' Cajun basketball player. Wronkoski played in every game so far this season, but his insertion into the starting lineup added the necessary spark to catch the kindling.
Bob Marlin decided to insert his quiet soldier into the starting lineup against Arkansas State, and the team is 6-1 since that point. Clearly, the Cajundome provided the proper environment for the reaction to take place, but the chemistry improved nonetheless.
"Once he got in the starting lineup, he got excited about the games," Marlin said. Wronkoski delt with back troubles at times, but he's not missing a minute of his senior season, "If he can walk, he's going to play."
These fruits didn't come without extensive labor. There were some blind turns on his road to this point.
After starting 21 of 33 games as a freshman, he came off the bench the next season and saw his minutes go down by six a game. Pouting comes naturally to some, but not Wronk. He kept showing up to practice with the same attitude. Last year, as a junior, his time on the floor decreased by seven more minutes, largely due to his back. In his final year on campus, he is reversing the trend.
Wronkoski is averaging right around 16 minutes per game in his final voyage with the Cajuns, and his insertion into the starting lineup allowed Marlin to bring some more offensive fire power and energy off the bench.
If Marlin asked him to come off the bench again and give up his starting role, Wronkonski probably wouldn't even blink. For him, the Cajun name on the front of the jersey matters.
"He's one of the most team-oriented guys I've ever coached," Marlin said.
It's sometimes easy to forget basketball is a team sport. When a rockstar walks on stage, it's easy to lose focus of the band behind him. We get wrapped up in the entertainment of the bright lights and forget the science and meticulous planning that goes into building a winner.
Wronkoski is a reminder that every part of the formula matters, and the slightest alteration can produce a vast shift in results.
Coaches also share something else with chemists: if they mess up their formula, it can all blow up in their face. The Wronkoski Experiment is working in the starting lineup, so his coach will keep on the same path unless the reaction starts to turn. As long as his back stays healthy, Wronk could help the Cajuns cut down some nets.
The UL record books will remember Wronk forever, but he still wants to find the formula for another Sun Belt Championship ring. It's the sweet science of sports at work.