Reggie Willhite is a 193cm guard from Elk Grove, California that is playing his first season in Germany for the Finke Baskets in Paderborn. He played at Yale(NCAA) from 2008-2012 playing a total of 97NCAA games and as a senior played 28 games averaging 12.2ppg, 6.1rpg, 4.0apg, 2.3spg, FGP: 53.3%, 3PT: 28.3%, FT: 67.0%. Before coming to Germany, he had minimal professional experience having played with Reno(D-League) and with Jolly Jadranska Banka Sibenik (Croatia-A1). Currently for the Finke Baskets he is averaging 10,5ppg, 6,1rpg and 2,2apg. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball.
Reggie thanks for talking to German Hoops. You are playing your first season with the Finke Baskets. What has been your impression of Germany on and off the court?
Germany has been a tremendous place for me to play my first full professional season. There is an abundance of talent within the ProA division as well as in the higher and lower levels. It has been a great place for me to gauge my own abilities and really see the areas I need to improve upon in order to continue to progress with the game of basketball. Off of the court, Paderborn has been great so far. It is a smaller town but the community is very nice and welcoming. It is also in a great location for travel with places such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Dusseldorf, and Cologne close by.
Even though this is your third professional season, you didn´t play for Reno(D-League) and only one game for Jolly(Croatia) last season. Does this feel like your rookie season?
In some ways it does feel like my rookie season. Although I continued to train and practice throughout those seasons, there is a certain element of the basketball atmosphere I obviously missed out on while not participating in professional games. That being said, when playing alongside veteran players I still see myself as an equal. Even though I did not play during those seasons, I still worked myself to the bone day in and day out.
After not playing the last two seasons did you ever lose hope that your professional career may never really get off the ground?
That is definitely a thought that began to linger in the back of my mind for a while. Though, instead of bringing me down, it only pushed me to work harder and harder everyday so that the thought would never become a reality.
How comfortable have you been with your game this season? You have scored in double figures nine times and are averaging double figure stats. On what part of your game do you still want to improve on?
Despite the small successes that I have experienced this season, I am still motivated to greatly improve. I would like to see my percentages from the outside rise during the second half of the season. That has been an area of focus during my training and it is only a matter of time before the hard work begins to pay off. I also believe that my assist numbers could be higher.
The Finke Baskets have lost quite a bit as of recent. What have been the main reasons for the loses the last weeks?
As a team we have struggled to play consistently on the defensive end. There are games in which we play to perfection as a team and there are games in which we unravel at times. Fortunately, it is an issue that we are aware of and are making strides to fix. We have proven to ourselves the level that we can play at when we perform defensively; now it is simply a consistency issue.
The German Pro A seems to be getting more and more competitive each season. Can the Finke Baskets become a playoff team over time?
I definitely think that the Baskets can become a playoff team and this year may be the year that it happens. As a team we have yet to play our best basketball and I believe that we will have a much better run during the second half of the season.
How challenging and enjoyable has it been playing with TY Nurse in the back court? How do you guys make each other better on the court?
Ty is a very talented player. He is definitely one of the best spot up shooters I have seen. With my ability to penetrate, we compliment each other very well on the court. We go head to head every day in practice and because we often prefer to play physically on defense, we tend to make each other work pretty hard and continue to get better.
Your an excellent combo guard who can shift between the point guard and shooting guard spot. With the ability to really slash to the basket, opponents must devise their defenses to counteract this threat. Looks to draw a lot of contact and still get to the rim to finish with highlight reel dunks or pass off. Has excellent vision and lays perfect passes down for team mates. When lining up at the point spot he is capable to run an offense efficiently and directs other players well. An extremely vocal leader when he plays. Plays great position defense. A great work ethic he demands the same of all his teammates. Will be an excellent addition to a team this season. A very scrappy competitor he keeps his intensity at a high level right till the end of the game. He has been consistently improving his 3pt range and will stroke the deep ball with confidence and has to be guarded out there. But what is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away?
People often notice my aggressiveness and abilities as an on ball defender. A hidden strength of mine would be how well I play in a team defensive setting. Being vocal is key to playing team defense and I would say that I am just as vocal on the defensive end as I am running the point position on the offensive end. I also time players well from the weak side allowing me to block shots in the middle. I believe I am currently leading my team in blocked shots for the first half of the season.
It took German Frederik Henningsen 8 years to reach the German pro A last season with Paderborn. He has improved his scoring average from last season this season. How have you see his development and what do you like about his game most?
Because I never saw him play before this year, I can not say much about Fredi’s improvement from last year to this year. This season as a player I believe he has many weapons on the offensive end. People tend to focus on his ability to shoot the three at a high percentage but underestimate his ability to drive and finish. He is a big guard who is also strong and can finish through contact in the middle.
You were briefly with Jolly Jadranska Banka Sibenik (Croatia-A1) last season. Why didn´t this situation work out and what memories did you have from American Ronald Ross?
The situation with Jolly last season was based in logistics. Failed attempts to acquire my Croatian citizenship (my mother was born in Croatia) and various other miscommunications led to unfortunate circumstances for the season. Ron on the other hand, was definitely a positive aspect of the whole experience. Not only is Ron a very talented player, he is also a great teammate and genuine individual. I learned a lot from Ron on the court and off the court as he took me under his wing during my stay in Croatia.
You were with the Reno Bighorns (D-League) in pre season as a rookie, but didn´t play anywhere else. How difficult was this rookie season? How did you survive this season of professional inactivity?
Continuing to stay confident in myself and my abilities was what kept me going. I was able to do so through my support structure and the people I have around me in my life. It was definitely a difficult time for me but I have never been one to shy away from a task simply because it was difficult.
You played at Yale(NCAA) form 2008-2012. You improved your scoring, rebounding and assists each season. How was this Ivy league experience for you on and off the court?
The Ivy league experience was one of the most enjoyable and influential times of my life both on and off the court. I was in great hands under Coach Jones and learned many things while in the locker room with him both about basketball and about life. There is such an overabundance of resources and outlets away from the basketball court at Yale University that I feel it is impossible to leave without having felt like there were experiences that were left undiscovered. Regardless, I was able to learn from and engage in a great deal of extracurriculars that still have positive impacts on me to this day.
You were Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, the first Yale player to win that award. What NBA player was always your role model as a defender?
I wouldn’t say that I had one specific player that was my defensive role model growing up; I just really enjoyed watching 90’s NBA basketball because of how much more physical the game was on both ends of the floor.
Before your senior year at Yale you trained with Duke legends Christian Laettnner and Grant Hill. What did you learn most from these two legends?
The biggest principle I took from my sessions with Christian and Grant was definitely the importance of confidence as a basketball player. It is always important to remember that if you do not believe in yourself, no one else will.
What memories do you have from playing against Harvard and Jeremy Lin. Did you know then that he would make the NBA?
Despite the fact that he played for Harvard, it was actually very cool playing against Jeremy Lin. I had not seen a player have such an effect on his home crowd in person before. It was as though the fans in the gym were not Harvard fans at all but strictly Jeremy Lin fans. At the time I did not know what the future of Lin’s basketball career would hold. I did know that he had a pretty devout work ethic. When combined with a bit of talent, a strong work ethic can go a long way.
How did James Jones prepare you best for a professional basketball career at Yale?
Coach Jones preaches mental toughness. He is of the mindset that even if you are not the most talented team, you can still win if you are the most hard working and mentally tough team. I took that sentiment to heart. Part of my abilities as a defender come from exerting my will onto the opponent. Being more mentally tough than the man you are guarding can prove to be very effective over the course of a basketball game.
You have been in Germany now four months. What have you learned to appreciate most about the country?
Definitely the language. I could speak some German before coming to the country but my speaking ability has drastically improved since I have been here. The German language is often times regarded as a harsh language but once you develop an ear for it, I think it can be quite eloquent.
What was the last DVD movie that you saw?
I just watched the controversial movie ‘The Interview’ with James Franco and Seth Rogan.
Thanks Reggie for the chat.