Wichita State’s Darral Willis wants his summer to go right. Over and over again.
He went to great lengths last season to avoid shooting with his right hand, sometimes turning open shots into difficult ones to keep the basketball in his left hand.
“I have to get better, no matter how hard it is,” he said. “I know I can use my left. I’m trying to work on going right and making a counter-move with my right hand.”
Shocker coaches are not taping Willis’ left arm to his body — at least not yet — to force him to develop his right hand. His summer workouts are focused on right-handed shooting, dribbling and passing drills.
The left hand is good to Willis, a 6-foot-9 senior from Madison, Wis. He is expert shooting mid-range jumpers and his powerful, unorthodox moves in the lane torment defenders.
He averaged 9.8 points and made 53.8 percent of his shots last season to earn a spot on the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer team. During a seven-game stretch in December and early January, he averaged 16 points and made 40 of 67 (59.7 percent) shots, highlighted by 24 points and 13 rebounds in a loss to Oklahoma State and 25 points and 10 rebounds in a win at Indiana State.
Once scouting reports took hold, however, Willis’ numbers slipped. He dropped out of the starting lineup in late January. He played more than 15 minutes once in WSU’s final 13 games. While the steady play of teammates Shaq Morris, Rauno Nurger and Rashard Kelly and Willis’ defensive issues contributed to the change, so did his scoring limits.
Summer workouts are about offensive skills and Willis can address scoring with the right hand. Last season, WSU changed a play it runs for players to drive right and ran it to the left solely for Willis.
“Everything came back to his left hand,” assistant coach Isaac Brown said. “We do lot of drills where he just pounds the ball with his right hand. He made 200 right-hand hooks. Two hundred right-hand dribbles. He’s 75-percent better with that right hand.”
Willis eats with his right hand. He holds his cell phone with his right hand. On the court, he played strictly one-handed last season.
“Straight left, no matter what,” he said. “In high school, I couldn’t make a right-handed layup — that’s how bad it was. I’ve come a long way.”
Each practice, Willis makes 75 right-handed jump hooks. He also makes 50 three-pointers (lefty), part of his goal to become more of a long-range threat for WSU’s pick-and-pop game. He tries to use his right hand exclusively in pickup games.
“Except when it’s game point,” teammate Landry Shamet said. “It will help him a lot to have a counter. He’s definitely working on it.”
Willis knew defenses set up to take away his left-handed moves. It is tough to retool during a season, especially when he scored easily in high school and junior college with his left hand.
“He’s getting better at it, he just never had been required to do it,” Shocker coach Gregg Marshall said.
It is a requirement this summer when the Shockers gather in small groups to work with coaches in the Koch Arena practice gym.
“I feel confident now that Darral can drive the ball with his right hand, he can make entry passes with his right hand,” Brown said. “He can finish around the rim with his right hand. Now he’s got counters where he can go right. It’s giving him a lot of confidence.”
Willis came to WSU last summer and jumped into a whirlwind of change from Pearl River (Miss.) Community College. The Shockers practiced 10 times as a team to prepare for an exhibition trip to Canada. Most players on the team searched for their roles after the departure of a distinguished senior class.
“It wasn’t getting me better, it was throwing me out there with the wolves,” he said. “I had to learn everything super-fast, because we had the Montreal tournament. Now it feels good.”
This summer is more settled and Willis is confident he is making progress. He missed his one three-point shot last season. After Tuesday’s workout, Willis made 10 threes from five spots around the arc before quitting.
“We didn’t allow him to shoot threes, because he didn’t do it in practice,” Brown said. “Now, he’s staying after practice every day, getting up shots on his own.”
Willis enters his senior season and he knows his basketball future depends on progress he makes over the next year. His professional options will expand as his offensive game expands.
“I’m doing for it myself, so I can make the most money I can at the next level,” he said. “I can’t be just a straight left-hand, mid-range shooter. I’ve got to extend my range out, get my right hand better.”
Shamet, McDuffie head to camps — Shamet and junior Markis McDuffie will attend invitation-only exposure camps in the coming weeks.
Shamet, a guard, will play in an Under Armour camp in Philadelphia beginning on July 19.
Both players will go to the Adidas Nations Global camp in Houston starting Aug. 3. The Adidas camp includes “skill training from NBA coaches, performance workout sessions and games,” according to the Adidas website.
“It gets you in front of NBA guys,” Shamet said. “You work out, do a lot of individual drills.”
Big men in town — Two new Shockers are participating in summer workouts.
Incoming freshman center Asbjorn Midtgaard arrived in Wichita two weeks ago after completing his NCAA eligibility requirements in Denmark. Center Isaiah Poor Bear Chandler, from Omaha, is enrolled at WSU, which allows him to practice with the Shockers. He will attend Sunrise Christian Academy this fall.