Will Cherry was an undrafted senior out of Montana a year ago and played for the Canton Charge of the NBA D-League last season. The 23-year-old guard was a very good college player who took advantage of the opportunities he’s had and earned a shot at making it to NBA this summer.
In a Pro Bball Report exclusive at Media Day, Cherry talks about his journey to the NBA, the setbacks he has overcome and the role he hopes to win on the Raptors. Listening to Cherry talk, it is easy to understand why the Raptors believe he deserves a hard look during training camp and preseason.
Cherry had an outstanding junior season at Montana and was hoping to build on that before turning professional after his senior year, however, multiple injuries conspired to disrupt the start of his season and again just before the 2013 NBA Summer League.
“My senior year was a bust,” Cherry said. “When a broken foot hit me I was devastated and me being who I am, I played through it and I should have sat out – red shirt – and went from there.
“I had high expectations coming into my senior season, but it kind of snapped me back to reality. At any given moment, this game can be taken away from you. It made me grow up a lot.”
When a player gets injured, the reasonable response from pro teams is to wait and see if the player can return to form and Cherry knows the scouts were just doing their jobs when his numbers tailed off instead of improving during his senior year.
“This summer was really big for me,” Cherry said. “I handled my business in Summer League and showed them I was really back healthy.
“The knowledge I got in the D-League, I applied to the Summer League and playing with (Andrew) Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and all those guys definitely helped out.”
The 2014 NBA Summer League would not have been a big success for Cherry without his NBA D-League experience. The D-League showed him just how big a jump it is from college to the pros.
“The D-League, it slowed the game down so much for me,” Cherry said. “Coming out of college in my first Summer League with the Pelicans I didn’t play a lot, but in practices it just seemed like everything was moving so fast. The terminology was way different than when I was in college and it’s not suppose to be like that, but everything was moving so fast.
“When I got to the D-League – film after film after film, it is one thing for the coach to tell you, but when you actually see it – film doesn’t lie. They are telling you to make this adjustment, make these corrections and that really helped a lot. It was the little things that I learned at that level that at this level makes the biggest difference.
“The pick-and-roll game is heavy in this league and that was one area where I thought I had it down, but I really didn’t as far as the little things – setups, how to get myself open, where there are pocket passes, look for the three-point passes in the corner, this help comes here, read the defenses, all that little stuff.”
Cherry lost his jump shot after getting injured and that is one skill that would make him a more effective offensive player.
“The injury made me take a step back and I was kind of frustrated,” Cherry said. “Where the hell did my jump shot go?
“Shooting to me is more so confidence, getting out of your own head and repetitions and when I had the injury, I was more worried about the injury instead of getting back to my shots.
“I have been in the gym getting that back.”
There is a month for training camp and preseason in which Cherry has to show the Raptors what he’s got and it isn’t going to be easy for him to take a job away from one of the 15 guys with guaranteed contracts. However, Cherry does seem to know what will give him the best chance in Toronto.
“Defense, defense, make it hard for the opposing guard to bring the ball up the court,” Cherry said. “Running the team as a point guard making my teammates better, you don’t want me coming in and doing too much and getting out of my element.
“Most of all, a lockdown defender at the point guard position. At my position, it’s deep, point guards are scorers as well as facilitators and everybody starting guard at this position in this league is tough. It doesn’t matter who you are playing.
“I want to be the guy that when I come in the game they look at me and this is going to be a long night with this guy. That’s the type of player I want to be.”
That’s a high standard for a rookie to be setting, but on a Dwane Casey coached team, it is the standard that can land him a job.