- By Tom Archdeacon columnist
This could be the season of full return for Wright State’s Bill Wampler.
First his game. Then his name:
That’s the tag the coach at Drake gave the 6-foot-6 Wampler when he played for the Bulldogs two years ago and had a span of seven games where he averaged 19.6 points per game.
“It was after we played Fresno State, I think, that Coach (Jeff) Rutter came in the dressing room and started calling me Billy Buckets,” Wampler laughed. “He said I was an automatic assist for some of my teammates. They knew if they passed me the ball they were going to get an assist. It was pretty funny.
“Once he gave me the name, it kind of stuck. Our men’s basketball Twitter kind of blew up with it. That’s when the Missouri Valley Conference started tweeting about ‘Billy Buckets’ and it just sort of took off.
“And I didn’t mind it. I mean I’m a big Minnesota Timberwolves guy and they have Jimmy Buckets (NBA All Star guard Jimmy Butler.) So it’s an honor to be called that. You’re seen as a scorer.”
Over two seasons Wampler played 60 games for Drake. He especially emerged his sophomore season, even while dealing with a persistent foot injury and his head coach (Ray Giacoletti) quitting eight games into the season when the team was 1-7.
With Giacoletti’s sudden resignation and the interim coach, Rutter, not getting the job – he’s a Miami RedHawks assistant now – Wampler said he was further convinced he wanted to transfer:
“I wasn’t having fun with basketball anymore. It was just kind of a burden and I realized I needed a change of scenery.”
He had been highly recruited out of Regis High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and he drew considerable interest again when he decided to leave Drake.
He finally narrowed his list to Wisconsin-Green Bay, Minnesota, Ball State and Wright State and said he chose the Raiders, in part, because WSU head coach Scott Nagy and assistant Brian Cooley had recruited him out of high school when they were still at South Dakota State.
This season it’s hoped he can replace the scoring provided last season by All Horizon League guard Grant Benzinger, who graduated and is headed to a pro career after averaging 14.3 points per game last season and scoring 1,451 career points.
Wampler admits those are big shoes to fill, but he’s had big games before and believes he’s in a better basketball situation than he was at Drake.
Does that mean the reemergence of Billy Buckets?
“I don’t think a lot of the guys have heard of it yet, so the name hasn’t transferred here,” he laughed. “But it might eventually and that would be OK. It’s means you’re doing well.”
1,000 shots a day
He said his mom called it “Bloody Ball.”
“Those were the first basketball games he played with his older brothers at the hoop set up on the driveway of their home in Eau Claire.
“I was maybe eight or nine – my oldest brother is nine years older – and all of them would pick on me. I’d get knocked to the ground and I’d come in in from those games all bloody.
“It inspired me to want to do better than them so I worked at my game.”
The summer between his sophomore and junior year he went to the local YMCA and shot 1,000 shots a day.
“All summer long, I was there every day until the Y would close,” he said.
He played for an AAU team in Minneapolis and his senior year at Regis High he averaged 26 points, won All State honors and was ranked the No. 6 prep player in Wisconsin.
“He was known more for his overall athletic ability than just his shooting,” Nagy said. “The schools in the Upper Midwest all recruited him.”
Wampler said he finally narrowed his list to four schools: Auburn, Creighton, Davidson and Drake.
“My mom really prioritized education and I picked Drake mainly because of the academics,” he said. “It was the No. 3 school in the country for my major – business management.”
His freshman year at Drake, the Bulldogs went 7-24 and lost 15 of their final 17 games. He said the team went through long practices every day – at least 3 to 3 ½ hours – and players were worn down. Although the next season started 1-7, the team railed with Rutter and finished 17-17.
“I came to Wright State because of the coaches more than anything,” he said. “I trust Coach Nagy and Coach Cooley a lot. They know what they’re doing.
“The biggest thing that hit me was that they came in and won 20 games their first year. You’re not supposed to be able to do that.”
A ‘versatile’ player
“Sometimes last year when the ball would roll to the sideline, I just wanted to grab it and shoot it!” Wampler said with a grin.
Sitting out last season to meet NCAA transfer rules, he could practice, but come game time, he was on the bench in street clothes.
“The year out was good for him,” Nagy said.
“He lost a little bit of weight – they had him play a 4 at Drake — and on our scout team he would always play the other team’s best player, anywhere from a 1 to a 4. He’s really versatile. There are a lot of places we can play him this year. And he’s motivated. He’s in the gym all the time.”
After two seasons on the court at Drake, Wampler said he learned something new from a season sitting on the bench:
“I saw a lot of parts of the game I’d never seen before. I was able to see everything more from a coach’s perspective.”
That said it, was tough sitting, especially when fellow transfer Cole Gentry – with whom he shares an apartment along with Loudon Love and Adam Giles – was able to begin playing at midseason.
“I was kind of jealous of Cole,” he said with a grin.
That has all changed now.
After working as an instructor at the two remaining summer camps WSU basketball is offering – this coming Monday and June 25-28 – he will join Team USA and play in the FISU America Games, July 19-29, in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Immediately after that he and the rest of the WSU team will go to Haiti for an early August charity mission, something Nagy has done before with his teams at South Dakota State.
He’ll then ready for the Raider’s Nov. 7 season opener against Western Carolina at the Nutter Center. And when he takes the court, he’ll look different than he did last season when he was a fixture on the bench.
“My whole redshirt season last year, I decided I wasn’t going to cut my hair, so I had a beard and a man bun,” he smiled. “Now I’ve kinda shaved it and I’m back to a more normal haircut.
“The coaches teased me a little about it last year, but Coach Nagy was understanding.
“He said, ‘I don’t care what your hair looks like as long as you can score the ball.’”
He wanted him to be “Billy Buckets.”