Darral Willis is a 23 year old 206cm forward/center from Madison, Wisconsin playing his second professional season and first with BC Nizhny Novgorod currently putting up strong stats of 17,3ppg and 7,8rpg in the VTB league and 12,7ppg and 7,7rpg in the Basketball Champions League. Last season as a rookie he played with Keravnos Strovolou (Cyprus-Division A) playing 30 games averaging 14.9ppg, Reb-2 (9.7rpg), FGP: 53.9%, 3PT: 26.7%, FT: 78.9%; and played 2 FIBA Europe Cup games averaging 11.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.0apg. He began his basketball career at James Madison Memorial High School and then played at Pearl River CC (JUCO) from 2014-2016 averaging 13.8ppg, 7.1rpg, FGP: 62.8%, FT: 77.2%and 18.4ppg, 10.4rpg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 59.0%, FT: 74.3%. He then moved to Wichita State (NCAA) in 2016 playing two seasons playing a total of 68 games averaging 9.8ppg, 5.1rpg, FGP: 54.0%, FT: 73.9% and 10.3ppg, 5.8rpg, FGP: 54.9%, 3PT: 39.5%, FT: 65.8%. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a Basketball Champions League game in Bamberg.
Darral thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. Welcome to Germany. Is this your first time to Germany? What do you know in general
I don’t know too much. This is my first time in Germany. I’m learning as I go. I like the structures of the buildings in Bamberg. I like the old modern day look.
How blessed are you to be playing in the VTB and Basketball Champions League? You have come a long way from Madison Memorial. If someone had told you where you would be today and how you got there in the fall of 2014 when you were playing JUCO would you have been surprised?
I would have been somewhat surprised. I just have put in a lot of work and hours in the last years. I believe that the ceiling is still very high for me. I’m still young and working hard. The future is bright for me.
Congrats on signing with BC Nizhny Novgorod (Russia-VTB). How challenging has it been competing in the VTB League coming from Cyprus? Has there been a part of the game that has been most difficult to get adjusted to?
The competition is a lot different. The players are bigger and faster, but so far the whole experience has been a lot of fun. I live for top competition. I love going at it against good players. I am very thankful for my teammates who continue to put me in great spots to excel.
Since moving up to the VTB in 2014the team has made the playoffs in four of five seasons. Do you feel like the expectations are very high to do more than just reach the playoffs?
The expectations are high, but I think that if we continue to put team over everything else then we can go very far. If we keep working hard like we are who knows how far we will go.
The team kept some Russians, but also got all new Americans. The chemistry seems good in the early going. What has been the secret to having a solid 3-1 record in the early going?
The secret to our early success has been putting our ego’s aside. We are all working hard together and also still figuring each other out. It will continue to take some time, but we have shown that it’s not about ourselves but about the team. We are gelling very nicely.
You’re the youngest American on the team. How key has veteran Brandon Brown been for your integration period?
On the court he is a very good facilitator and orchestering everything. He puts me in spots where I’m most effective. I can not only go to him for advice, but also to Alec Brown or Chavaugn Lewis. But I also like to get advice from my old teammate Anthony King. I will lean on him for advice. He is a really good veteran.
You are experiencing some hard travel this season with VTB and BCL. Has it been a real test for you so far? What besides diet, sleep and rest have been key for you being able to play so well?
I haven’t really changed anything up to be honest. I try to get at least 8 hours of sleep and eat well. This team has a lot of discipline. I play within the rules and try to help my team as best possible.
Let’s talk about your game. You’re a 206cm forward that can score and rebound the ball very well. If you had to compare your game to a NBA player which guy would best fit the way you play?
I think that the guy that I play most similar to would be Zach Randolph. He is a good lefty. He can score, rebound, sees the court well and plays defense. That is how I play.
You began taking more three’s as a senior and last season shot 26% from outside. How important is for you to keep incorporating the three into your game?
I pretty much just keep working and working. I really want to incorporate it more into my game and be able to stretch the floor and hit three’s when needed.
What other strengths does your game have besides scoring the ball and rebounding and what is a hidden strength in your game that doesn’t always get noticed?
I have a mid range game. But more importantly I give good energy and am always there for a teammate. I think my hidden strength is being a good teammate. I am the kind of guy that you would want to play with.
You don’t get many steals or blocks in the stats, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t defend. Talk a little about your defensive game and where do you want it to go in the future?
I hope that I will start to pack on more blocks. It’s not always about the steals and blocks. I think that altering shots is just as important. But there are no stats on those. Important for me is to be a force on defense and help on the weak side. I also want to be able to not let my man score on me easily.
You have been very consistent scoring in every game in the VTB and BCL leagues. Your self confidence must be very high. How are you currently coping with your success mentally?
I’m not complacent. I think there would be guys in my position that would be totally relaxed. But that is not what I’m all about. My foot is always on the gas pedal. There are still more games to be played. Even if I’m shooting something like 12/18, I think I could be doing better.
Last season you played with Keravnos Strovolou (Cyprus-Division A) playing 30 games averaging14.9ppg, Reb-2 (9.7rpg), FGP: 53.9%, 3PT: 26.7%, FT: 78.9%; and played 2 FIBA Europe Cup games averaging 11.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.0apg. What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Cyprus where you knew that you were very far away from home?
My wake up call was just moving up the ladder. I knew that if I could stick out my rookie season in Cyprus then I knew I could do anything. I just grinded out the season and prayed for better days. Those better days came. I’m playing VTB and BCL now and want to continue to move up.
How important was ex Miami Hurricane Anthon King for you as a rookie. I covered him more than 10 years ago when he played for the Frankfurt Skyliners and he came over as a very quiet guy, but was a very funny guy.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that he is funny. Maybe he was 10 years ago when you covered him, but now he is more quiet. He observes a lot and observed me. He took me under his wing. The best advice that he gave me was not to be sped up, but slow down. Let the game come to you. He gave me good advice about basketball and life.
Where do you rank your personal performance of 29/17 against Apoel in the 95-94 playoff win last season?
That was a good game, but my best was that season where I scored 40 points to win the cup.
You had a very good high school basketball career, but had to begin at Pearl River CC (JUCO). How tough was it having to pay your dues there, but also how satisfying have had that experience and get better and then be able to play in the NCAA?
When I look back at that time, I am very thankful that I could play at Pearl River. Coach Oney was a very good coach. He saw a lot of potential in me. Before I had visited Pearl River, I had visited three other schools, but after my visit to Pearl River, I was sure I wanted to go there. Coach Oney said all these things that he would do for me and he stayed true to his word and did everything that he said
You then played at Wichita State (NCAA) from 2016-2018. Was winning the MVC tournament one of your fondest memories there?
Yes that was my biggest moment as well as taking a team tour to the Bahamas. I have great memories of winning the MVC tournament. I remember everyone running on to the court and jumping up and down with joy. Seeing all the happy faces was priceless. Going to the Bahamas was great for team bonding.
You played in two NCAA tournaments and in your first season at Wichita State (NCAA) lost a nail bitter to Kentucky 65-62. What memories do you have of that game and battling many future NBA players and do you ever watch the ending again?
No I could watch that game, but I just haven’t so far. We were so close in that game. I wish that we would of pulled it out. It is what it is. It was fun watching many good hoopsters going at it. I really felt the March Madness atmosphere. The guy that stood out the most to me from the Kentucky team was De’Aaron Fox.
How did head coach Greg Marshall groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
The most important advice he told me was to just work, work work. That’s what I have been doing since.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Shaquille Morris?
Of course me. I would definitely beat him. You can quote me on that. He can play me anytime he wants to.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA or Europe now?
That is hard to say. I played against so many. I honestly don’t know. None comes to mind.
Please name your personal NBA Rushmore?
Iverson, Magic, James, Garnet and Shaq
What is your personal opinion of the neverending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
Lebron is in my era. I go with him. He is one of the greatest of all-time.
What was the last movie that you saw?
The Mystery Lover with my girl.
Thanks Darral for the chat.