New guard for Tigers has ability to score
As prep, Willis overcame wide variety of defenses
By Dan Wolken
October 30, 2006
When University of Memphis freshman Tre'Von Willis began dominating high school basketball in Fresno, Calif., opponents would try almost anything to stop him. Double teams. Junk defenses. Every game. For three years.
"They played box-and-one," Willis said. "That was frustrating." Unlike many high-level Division 1 prospects, however, Willis didn't have the sheer size or athleticism to overcome it. He did, however, have the instincts.
And after finishing with 2,842 points -- fifth-most in California prep history -- those instincts are serving Willis well in his first year with the Tigers.
Though Memphis' depth at the wing positions has made competition for minutes intense, Willis is squarely in the mix because he understands the most fundamental element of basketball: how to score.
"He has ways of getting balls down in the basket," coach John Calipari said. "There's guys that are gorgeous players; they look like Tarzan and play like Jane. There's others that, you look at them and they don't look like they should get it done. But the stat sheet says they're efficient, they get it done, and they understand.
"He's getting better. I'm really happy for him. I've got to get him to play a little bit faster and play with the control he's playing under, just a little faster pace."
In some ways, Willis at 6-4 is reminiscent of sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who isn't necessarily a physical specimen at 6-6 and 190 pounds but has good body control and is crafty around the rim.
For that reason -- as well as their similar, outgoing personalities -- Douglas-Roberts said he has taken Willis under his wing.
"He can play," Douglas-Roberts said. "He's not the quickest, but he thinks the game, and that reminds me of me."
Out-thinking opponents is what Willis had to do in high school once teams began going to extreme measures to defend him.
He started passing more. He started moving more away from the ball. He went to the offensive glass. He found ways to get open he never needed before. Oh, and he also dished out more than 1,000 assists.
"I really did get doubled every game," Willis said. "It was tough, it was a challenge. I had to figure out new ways to do what I do."
It's pretty safe to say Willis won't garner the same kind of attention at Memphis. Though Hoop Scoop rated him No. 67 among high school seniors last year, he's not even the most highly rated freshman in the program.
But Willis will come in handy this year. He's been among Memphis' best 3-point shooters in nearly every practice, he makes layups and can even play some point guard if necessary.
Calipari said Sunday he envisions nine or 10 players in his rotation, with each playing at least 15 minutes per game.
"I'm a very competitive player, a very competitive person and I'm coming in here trying to do my best," Willis said. "It's great because I can't slack off. I've got to play good all the time and do what I'm supposed to do and things will play out."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365