Atwood eager to display his talents

There are a few things one notices upon interacting with Willie Atwood for the first time. Standing at 6 foot 8 inches he’s rather tall, he exudes an immense amount of joy and that happiness is only complimented by his southern accent.

Atwood is originally from Memphis, Tenn.; however, Arizona State signed him from Connors State College, a junior college program located in Warner, Okla.

Anyone who is familiar with the procedure that junior college players go through to choose the right program and then simultaneously acquire division one offers while they are at that division two or three institutions understand that the process can be an odyssey.

Atwood explained that schools such as Ferris State, Arkansas State, and Louisiana Tech were the type of programs recruiting him out of high school and that is what drove him toward Connors State. So one can understand why the Tennessee native is so elated to be playing for the Sun Devils this season.

“I probably wasn’t supposed to be D1, maybe I was a D2 player, low major D1 at the most,” Atwood said. “But you know I just went to JUCO did my work, and now I’m just really excited to show everyone why I’m supposed to be here.”

He did indeed put in work at Connors State. The forward averaged nearly 21 points while shooting 58 percent from the floor and secured nine rebounds per game as well. Along with those averages he had scoring outbursts of 31, 35, and 49 points.

“He said, ‘You get it go to work, don’t look back just go to work,’” Atwood recalled of his coach’s instruction before his 49-point explosion against Independence Community College. “I just kept scoring, kept getting fouled, making my free throws, kept getting mismatches.”

The transfer forward was not exaggerating when he speaks of making his free throws. The young man sunk 33 of 37 attempts from the line in that game to go along with going eight for 15 from the floor.

Atwood explained that a lot of the Connors State offense involved high and low movements amongst the forwards. If one were to watch some of his film from Connors State Atwood’s tedious attention to moving the defender off balance would be more than noticeable.

“I like to get it high post action like a little Carmelo Anthony action,” Atwood stated.

“If I can see their feet, I attack their feet which ever foot lagging. So I attack their foot or give them a quick pull up or a jab and pull up, or just rip. I just like playing out of that little segment right there.”

Attention to footwork is not a quality that is abundant in the basketball community, it is a meticulous skill that can give a significant edge to the offensive player but is often neglected and Atwood said he had plenty of instruction on its importance.

“My JUCO coach taught me about the footwork, my high school coaches, and my godfather did because I never was big playing the four-position so they were like you basically got to be a wing player playing the four. You have to use your quickness and be smart.”

Currently standing 6 foot 8 inches it is hard to believe the Tennessean was never “big” playing the forward position as a youngster but he stated that his height came very gradually.

“[I] Stop growing probably my senior year of high school”, Atwood said. “Like every year summer I always grew two inches. I never just hit a big growth spurt.”

Consistency of both growth and performances at Connors State are what propelled Atwood to be one of the top recruited junior college players in the country. Atwood made official visits to Iowa and Florida State before his official visit to ASU last April. He went on to commit to the university six days after.

Atwood stated that the intimate atmosphere is what drew him in.

“[The] coaching staff makes u feel like family here. They don’t lie about their worries or anything like that. Just the community out here just beautiful,” Atwood said.

Since he enrolled in May the 6-foot-8-inch transfer has been working to refine his skills.

Atwood explained that his summer consisted of awakening at seven in the morning, getting into the gym for about an hour, going to study hall, then weight training for what Atwood described as “a long time.” Then they had conditioning, rested for about 30 minutes, went to skill training and then depending on what kind of day it was they may have played pickup games that would end around five p.m.

These off-season training sessions and pickup games were not light on notable names either.

Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (whom Atwood said he met very briefly when Gay was with the Memphis Grizzles) was among those names, “He was just here and was like ‘I want to work out.’ I was like, ‘OK cool,’” the former Connors State star recalled.

James Harden stopped by to get work in with his fellow Sun Devils during the off-season as well.

“James Harden told us this is probably one of the best Arizona State teams he saw,” Atwood said. “Like just off of the skill level everybody has and the talent that we have, he was like all we got to do is just come together. We come together, it’s over.”

The forward who said he came into Arizona at 204 pounds and now is at around 218 was not shy to admitting the workouts during the summer made him realize he’s not in Oklahoma anymore, “It has been a lot different. Playing against pros your pickup is a lot different. It’s just the speed and the strength it’s just a lot different.

“You got to keep up.”

After the summer’s hard work the first year Sun Devil believes his sense of the game is what improved the most.

“I didn’t have any kind of feel for the game at first, and now I just have a real feel for it,” Atwood reflected. “[I was] timid, just doing the wrong thing, thinking too much. Now I get it, I know what I want to do before I get the ball. I get it in one situation I know if a double team come, I probably see somebody at the back door I can skip it across court for an open three or something like that. It’s just a feel for the game.”

He also was getting a feel for his new surroundings in the valley of the sun. Although he candidly expressed his liking for Arizona, he did state some variations from Tennessee.

“It’s just different. It ain’t any sweet tea out here; you barely can find sweet tea.”

When asked if Raising Cane’s (which is conveniently located near the ASU practice facility) sweet tea compares to the type he grew up with Atwood said, “Nah--it’s good though I can bear.”

One way to get a more in depth impression of Atwood’s gratefulness to be in his current situation and the hunger to get this season begun is to follow the transfer forward on Twitter where his handle is @thelastchill.

“I just stay chill that’s me,” Atwood said of the origin of his Twitter handle.

He went further on to explain that being chill is what he’s known for amongst his friends.

“Except they say I’m a different player on the court,” Atwood admitted. “It’s just my mentality out here, all or nothing. Do or die.”

“You’ll see.”

His first season as a Sun Devil will begin in less than two months but one gets the sense that still isn’t soon enough for Willie Atwood.

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