Tre Demps Knows What They Say

Tre Demps is off to another shaky start this season. He still hasn't lost the confidence of Chris Collins, or himself.

You wouldn't guess that Tre Demps just got off a five-hour flight. You definitely wouldn't guess that his Wildcats lost at Stanford by 13 the night before. Still wearing pregame sweats with headphones draped around his neck, Demps cracks a smile as he's called for media availability.

"I thought I got the looks I wanted," he tells me Friday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena's practice facility. "Got some pull-ups, some three pointers."

Not the response I was expecting from a player who shot 3-of-11. But if there's one thing you catch from talking to Tre Demps, it's an unexpected, taciturn confidence that seems blind to stat lines and shot charts.

Demps' poor shooting Thursday was far from an anomaly; the sophomore had gone just 1-of-6 earlier in the week against Eastern Illinois. Slow starts aren't new either, and his paltry 23.5 shooting percentage through Northwestern's first two games is only slightly worse than the 24.2 mark he posted through his first nine games last season.

He doesn't seem to care much about either. And though Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski appear on the promotional posters, it's fair to argue that nobody's a better representative of what Northwestern is trying to do in 2013-14 than Tre Demps.

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With so few players on the court at one time, individual statistics carry more weight in basketball than any other sport. Demps knows this, and he knows the labels that come with the poor numbers he's put up of late.

"People have a misconception that I'm a guy that just wants to shoot and is selfish," he says. "But I've definitely bought into this team. I feel like there's a need to make plays on this floor, that's what I'm trying to do for my teammates."

It's not just lip service. The early days of the Chris Collins era can be characterized by cluttered formations, indecision with the ball and low scoring outputs on the offensive end of the floor, and though he's been off, Demps is one of few players who seem willing to actually take a shot for Northwestern.

Though nine players checked in for the Cats Thursday, only four took more than four shots. As nonconference play rolls on, there will be more deference and more of a search for the true no. 2 scoring option behind Crawford.

Demps still believes he can be that option, and even if he isn't, his volume of shots reflect a level of aggression that Collins and the Wildcats are desperately searching for.

"You have to have short-term memory. You have to forget that last shot," he says. "I've been playing basketball all my life. You shoot the same shot that you would've if you had made it. You can't think too much about it. You can't get hesitant."

He's been everything but in his short time in Evanston. Demps excelled at Reagan High School in San Antonio, averaging more than 16 points per game on 52 percent shooting in his senior season.

A standout showing at LeBron James' Skill Academy earned offers from other major-conference programs, including Colorado, Harvard, Minnesota and Stanford, but Demps opted to join the Wildcats in hopes of replacing Juice Thompson.

Demps' 7.6 points per game as a freshman weren't too far off Thompson's 11.6. His 37.9 shooting percentage, however, was well below Thompson's 43.4.

This season, Demps has seen that shooting percentage fall to just 32 percent. His struggles from the field haven't gone unnoticed by Chris Collins, but they also haven't carried much weight.

"He's been missing some shots he normally hits," Collins says. "You have to stay positive with him. I've told Tre, a lot of the shots he's taking are good shots. Mistakes are going to happen in basketball, and a missed open shot is not a mistake. We want him to be aggressive."

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There were few bright spots in Northwestern's shocking loss to Illinois State Sunday, but Demps' 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting was certainly one of them. He buried a three-pointer that kicked off Northwestern's second-half rally, cut into the paint twice for smooth layups, and even set up Jershon Cobb for the Wildcats' final two points, cutting the deficit to 64-62 with 23 seconds to play. Three days after a dreadful night, Demps' short-term memory paced him to one of the most efficient games in his career.

"We were offensively challenged at times. We need Tre to score the ball," Collins said in a postgame press conference. "I want him to attack, take what's there to be had. He did a really good job tonight. We need Tre to be a double-figure scorer for us.

"I think he's getting his confidence back."

You could argue that confidence has never left Demps, who, like Northwestern, will try to create shots this season in search of finding a true identity and a discernible niche. Some of them will go in; many more will not. But in what's looking like a long, experimental year, a player with the attack-first instinct of Demps is welcomed with open arms.

Both Demps and the Wildcats will need to embrace that short-term memory all winter. At times Sunday, it wasn't hard to see what Demps will look like as a more rounded scorer, a more mature player leading a competitive team with Nate Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin, Alex Olah, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh. Other times, he still looked like a frustrated chucker on a team where few others are willing to chuck. But Tre Demps still has plenty of time. Time for the short-term memory to evolve a long-term player.

"I'm still trying to find my way on both ends of the court," he says. "But at the same time, if I miss a shot or I have a turnover, I know I'm not coming out on the next play. The one thing Coach always emphasizes with me is ‘next play.'"


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