June 29, 2012
When Weber State's Damian Lillard was taken sixth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night in the 2012 NBA Draft, it was the second time in a week that a point guard from the Big Sky Conference made a national splash.
Last weekend Montana's Will Cherry participated at the by-invitation-only Deron Williams Nike Skills Academy in Las Vegas and had an impressive enough showing that Jeff Eisenberg, who writes The Dagger college basketball blog for Yahoo! Sports, spent Monday morning arranging phone interviews with Cherry and Griz coach Wayne Tinkle.
Cherry was one of just 16 college guards selected for the academy, a camp that turned out to be a who's who of Division I point guards. Among others running through drills and doing 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 work with Cherry were Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, Michigan's Trey Burke, Detroit's Ray McCallum and Missouri's dynamic backcourt duo of Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey.
"I think I matched up pretty well," Cherry said this week when he was back on campus to work Montana's overnight camp. "It was definitely a lot of competition, but I feel like I can play with anybody in the country.
"I proved it one way or the other (at the camp), whether it was on the defensive end or making my teammates better off the pick and roll or making hustle plays or knocking down open shots."
The academy, which ran Thursday afternoon through Saturday night in conjunction with the Amare Stoudemire Nike Skills Academy for post players, had two purposes: Expose the guards to the nuances of the NBA game while at the same time exposing them to the NBA scouts on hand.
The players had two workouts per day, one in the morning and another in the late afternoon.
"I was prepared going in, because it was stuff I'd been working on for two or three months with (Griz assistant coach Jonathan Metzger-Jones)," Cherry said.
"The emphasis was all about changing speed, because in the NBA that's what the game is about. Start slow, go fast. Start fast, go slow. You've got to change your speeds to mess with your defender, no matter if you're on a pick and roll or a fast break."
In between their own sessions, the collegiate guards had an opportunity to work with some of the top prep guards in the country who were taking part in Williams' high school academy. Among the players Cherry worked with were Andrew Harrison of Fort Bend, Texas, ranked No. 2 among all 2013 recruits by Rivals.com, and Kasey Hill of Montverde, Fla., ranked No. 8.
"The nice thing is that some of the things Will heard at the camp were things we've been telling him," Tinkle said. "It's good to hear it from a different voice every once in a while. Coming back it really solidifies that we're all on the same page with what he needs to do."
The question then becomes: With Lillard getting drafted high in the first round Thursday and Cherry harboring his own NBA dreams, will the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year's post-Montana goals be simpatico with his senior-year goals?
Tinkle scoffs at the suggestion that his point guard might put showcasing his own game above the name on the front of Cherry's No. 5 jersey.
"Will is focused on the team first," Tinkle said. "There are agents wanting to get involved, but he's been very forthright with them. He tells them he's focused on Montana basketball first and being the best he can be for the program
"Will has done a nice job within the framework of our system of getting some national attention. He knows if we keep doing things the way we have been, he'll have ample opportunities afterward."
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