Javarez `Bean' Willis has emerged as one of the top defenders on the Texas Tech men's basketball team.
Jan. 10, 2012
He is just one of three returning players from last year. Most people have trouble pronouncing his first name, but that doesn't really matter, because he answers to the name Bean.
Javarez "Bean" Willis is just a sophomore, but he is a second-year player who has been providing some much-needed leadership to a Texas Tech men's basketball team that has seven freshmen on the roster.
But as "Bean" says, they are 14 players playing under first-year head coach Billy Gillispie, so they are all learning a new system and a coach's new way of doing things.
"It has been new, but it is nothing that we cannot do" said Willis. "We see how (his system works). It is just going to take repetition, hard, hard practices, dedication and discipline. If we can do everything like he wants us to do it, we are going to be successful. I can see it."
Last season, Willis was a key reserve for the Red Raiders, but as a sophomore, he is just one of three players to have started every game.
"I have to lead by example first. I have to go hard every single play," added Willis. "If I do that in practice, it will show up in games. If the younger players see me doing that, then they will start to understand. Sometimes I have to lead verbally too, but it is mostly by action. If I am not going hard and I am telling someone else to get after it, how is he going to listen to me?
"I was talking with coach (Bubba) Jennings and he said, `You are the spark. You determine how good practice is going to be.' So now I feel if we have a bad practice that it is on me."
After the Grambling State victory, Gillispie reiterated the importance of Willis' practice effort and how it translates to the game.
"I thought Bean played the best today, and I don't mean any disrespect to the other guys," said Gillispie in his post-game interview. "I thought Lew (Robert Lewandowski) played well and so did Luke (Adams) and Ty (Nurse) did some good things, a lot of guys did some good things but I mean especially the way I like to play I thought Bean gave the best effort. He and Lew have been giving the best effort in practice and that's the reason they play better than anyone on our team because they play like they practice."
Willis managed a stellar performance against Grambling State, finishing with 11 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals.
"Every time I have a good defensive game, I seem to have a good offensive game as well," added Willis.
His effort in practice is seemingly starting to pay off, as the sophomore has recorded three of his six double-digit scoring efforts in the last four games. During the last four non-conference games of the season, Willis averaged 12.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assist and 1.5 steals. During that span, Willis shot 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point line.
"I have really bought into what coach has said about the harder you work the better chance you have to make the jumper" said Willis. "I used to think just the opposite, but then I realized you become wide open with the effort. I have really tried to focus on cutting hard on every single play, because if you do it in practice the repetition will carry over into the game."
As much as he has enjoyed seeing the fruition of his own personal success, he is focused more on what the team can do and be.
"I can see us getting better every day since the summer and every game that we have played. We have come together," added Willis. "I am excited for the opportunity to guard these quick ball handlers from each opponent we play. (Gillispie) has put that kind of trust in me. He has told me since he got here that is my job - to pressure the ball. If we can apply that ball pressure, then we can take them out of the flow of their offense. It is a challenge I look forward to each game. If I do my job, then it helps everyone else on the team."
As with most every player in the Big 12 Conference, Willis hopes to be a part of something special here at Texas Tech under Gillispie and bring home the school's first league title and a return to the NCAA Tournament.
But as much as coach Gillispie has inspired him to be the best player he can be, he has also inspired him to do something else.
"I want to graduate. Honestly, coach has changed me," said Willis. "I still slip up, but coach has showed me how to be so positive mentally when it comes to my education and my basketball. The way we practice, it makes me feel like I can defeat anything. If you can practice at the level coach wants you to, then you can defeat anything. It is all mental. It carries over to life. People say that effort in the classroom carries over to the court, but in some instances, I feel like the effort we give on the court has carried over into the classroom.
"It makes such a difference when you have someone that believes in you - someone who constantly cares. Not every conversation has been good. When I mess up, I deserve what I get, because in the end I know that he believes in me."