http://www.montanakaimin.com/sports/will-cherry-creating-spark-1.2791025#.T0UWKHmiamBWill Cherry: Creating Spark
Montana Grizzly point guard Will Cherry ends every practice with a perfect shot.
"If I swish it and it even touches a little bit on the back of the rim — I can't leave the gym," he says.
The 6-foot-1 junior adopted this routine via first-year assistant coach Jonathan Metzger-Jones and it has paid dividends.
Cherry is having his most productive offensive year, shooting a career-best 50 percent on field goals while averaging a team-high 17.5 points in Big Sky Conference games.
Montana, which is in second place in the Big Sky with a 12-1 record, owes part of its success not only to the Oakland, Calif., native player, but its Oaktown coach as well.
Jones, who was an assistant at the University of California, Santa Barbara the past three years, accepted head coach Wayne Tinkle's job offer for this season largely because of Cherry.
"Knowing that we were going to have a very talented group, which included this very good point guard from my hometown that I would be able to easily relate to — it helped play a role in me feeling comfortable enough to leave a good situation coaching at UCSB," he said. "Guess you could say that Will recruited me instead of vice-versa."
Either way, the Oakland duo has formed a special player-coach bond this season.
"He grabs me every day after practice and we do a competitive shooting drill," Jones said. "We shoot free throws and we can't leave until he makes a certain number of shots. The last one has to be a swoosh too; never leave the gym on anything but a perfect shot."
The extra shooting drills with Jones, coupled with sessions last summer when he wouldn't leave the gym until he made 500 shots, are parts of a promise Cherry made to Jones last year.
"When (Jones) first got here, he pulled me into his office," Cherry said. "He was like, ‘Are you willing to get your shot better? I'll help you, but are you willing to put the work in?'"
Cherry's numbers this season prove his answer to Jones was a resounding, "Yes."
His freshman season, Cherry shot only 17 percent from 3-point range and 54 percent from the free throw line, compared to this year where he's shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc and 79 percent from the charity stripe.
While his offense has drastically improved, defense has always been a staple in Cherry's game.
This season, the Californian is tied for sixth in the nation with 68 steals.
"I don't think there is any question that Will's defensive skill set is what helps us get wins more than anything else he does," Jones said. "He has the ability to completely disrupt what the team is trying to do."
Cherry's outstanding defense was a huge factor in Jones' attempt to recruit Cherry to play for the Gauchos while he was still a coach at UCSB in 2009.
Cherry, who was then a senior for a McClymonds High School team that went 33-0 and won a California state championship, sat down in the Warriors' gym and discussed scholarship offers with Griz assistant coach Bill Evans, as well as coaches from the University of South Florida and Santa Clara.
Evans asked Cherry to come to Missoula the following weekend for a recruiting trip and Will accepted, not thinking anything would come of it.
"The first 10 minutes coming in from the airport on the freeway, (Missoula) was nothing what I thought it was," Cherry said laughing. "I thought it was going to be a bunch of hicks, cowboys, horses in the middle of nowhere, no mall, no anything. But when I got to town, I was like ‘this is a nice little city.'"
The Grizzlies' lone Montana native on the roster, Derek Selvig, says that his teammate has adapted to life in Montana.
"He says we don't have some of his favorite restaurants, and he can't get the fresh new Jordan's right when they come out," said Selvig, a 7-foot senior forward. "But I get him back when I take the guys out to shoot clay pigeons. They can't seem to catch onto that."
Cherry & Co. will take their 20-6 record into Dahlberg Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m. when they play the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.firstname.lastname@example.org