By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
McMurry University junior point guard Bud Willis did more than hone his basketball skills at Clovis High School. Under the tutelage of Wildcats coach J. D. Isler, Willis also learned his true calling in life was coaching.
“When I see him coach, he teaches you how to play ball, and how to be a good person,” said Willis, who is averaging 9.5 points and a team-high 3.2 assists in 11 games at McMurry, a Division III school in Abilene, Texas. “He was kind of like a father figure to me.
“Under him, I learned something every day. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be the person or player I am now.”
A 2004 Clovis graduate, Willis played under Isler for four years, including three at the varsity level.
A point guard and a coach should have a special bond, as the player is an extension of the coach on the court, Isler said.
“I put a lot of demands on Bud,” Isler said. “And he always responded well.
“We spent a lot of time together talking basketball and about things he had to do to be successful in life.”
Willis said McMurry coach Ron Holmes’ coaching style is similar to Isler.
“No matter how good you are,” Willis said, “they push you to be better, and I think I need that kind of motivation.”
Holmes said he was interested in Willis since his freshman year at NMJC.
“He’s just not another guy who plays point,” Holmes said. “He thinks like one.”
Willis struggled early to make the transition from junior college to Division III, Holmes said.
“Ever since he’s come back from Christmas break he’s been a completely different player,” Holmes said. “The improvement is dramatic.”
The change is evident on both ends of the court, Holmes said.
Willis scored a game-high 17 points and had four steals as McMurry (6-5) beat the University of Texas at Dallas 81-57 recently.
“I didn’t want to take the open shot, and I wasn’t me,” Willis said. “Now I’m playing better than ever.”
In a loss to Sam Houston State on Dec. 30, Willis held Bearkats scoring leader Ryan Bright to just two shots in the second half.
Isler said he’s proud of the player and person Willis has become, and he sees a bright coaching career in his future.
“He has a passion for the game,” Isler said. “And a great understanding of the game.”
College update is compiled by CNJ Sports Writer Greg Price. Price can be contacted at 763-6991 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org