Thanks to the persistence of assistant coach Clint Sargent, Bill Wampler now plays for Wright State rather than Green Bay and was a big reason the Raiders held off the visiting Phoenix, 90-84, Saturday at the Nutter Center.
While playing at Regis High School in Eau Claire, Wisc., Wampler got his second-ever college scholarship offer from Green Bay, which was just three hours away from his home near the Minnesota state line.
There would be other interest, too — places like Auburn, Creighton and Davidson — and when he decided he wanted to play out of state, his mom insisted he also find a school known for academics.
He chose Drake and while he had some shining moments there – including making 8 of 11 three pointers in one game – the Bulldogs had back-to-back 7-24 seasons and the losing, along with other things, affected his outlook on his sport, his school and his life.
He decided to transfer and again Green Bay was a frontrunner. And this time he was interested in them.
“I was supposed to transfer there really,” he said. “I know that school pretty well and I know a lot of their players.
“Cody Schwartz, I grew up playing with him. And I know Will Chevalier, too. And I know Coach Herbst (associate head coach Randall Herbst), he recruited me out of high school. He’s a Wisconsin guy and was at Nebraska-Omaha and I took a visit there.”
But as Wampler was preparing to leave Drake, Green Bay initially didn’t have an open scholarship.
With one hesitation step by the Phoenix, Sargent jetted past them.
“He called me almost every day, he really pestered me,” Wampler said with smile. “There was just something about him, man, that drew me here to take a visit.
“He asked me what I wanted out of my last two years and I said, ‘I want to win.’ He said then he wanted me to take a visit and see the vision they had for this program.”
Wampler did and said he quickly ran through the scenarios in front of him: “It was like do I really want go back to Wisconsin? I kind of wanted to go with this culture and the guys, the coaches we have here.”
He chose Wright State and the Raiders have won since he got here.
His first season – as he was forced to sit out to meet NCAA transfer rules – the Raiders went 25-10, won the Horizon League Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where they were beaten by Tennessee.
Last season, as the team’s second-leading scorer, he helped lead the Raiders to a 21-14 mark, the regular-season conference crown and a berth in the NIT, where the Raiders lost by six to Clemson.
This season the Raiders are 11-3.
They won Saturday thanks to their veteran players – Wampler, 6-8 junior post player Loudon Love and fellow senior, point guard Cole Gentry – flexing their muscles down the stretch.
WSU had jumped to 12-point lead with five minutes left in the first half, but Green Bay — who already had battled teams like Purdue New Mexico, Wisconsin, Xavier and Central Florida on the road this season – was not intimidated and surged back to take a five-point lead with just under five minutes left in the game.
One big reason for Green Bay’s comeback was Amari Davis, the freshman guard from Trotwood Madison High School who had a big cheering section behind the visitors’ bench.
Although hampered by three fouls in the first half, Davis led the offensive attack in the final 20 minutes and finished with a team-high 18 points.
“Before the game, Coach (Scott Nagy) stressed the teams they had played said we’re not the best team they play this season,” Wampler said. “They won’t have any fear. This is a conference game and everything is different in them. Teams scout you a whole week. It’s a lot more intense.”
Nagy said that was “an eye opener” for the freshmen players, all of whom have had shining moments during non-conference play, but none of whom played well Saturday.
Love — who led WSU with 22 points and 16 rebounds while Wampler had 20 points and eight boards and Gentry added 21 points — explained how the ante is upped when Horizon League play begins:
“Everybody knows each other. Upperclassmen, you know each other. You know whose game you don’t like, whose games you despise. At the same time people know who they can expose on defense.”
After the game, Nagy was especially pleased that Wright State finally found the mark from the three-point line again, making 11 of 25 shots. Gentry went 3 for 6. Jaylon Hall was 3 for 5 and Wampler led the way, going 4 for 8,
It was a big turnaround for him after going 4 for 23 in the last three games he played, including 1 for 11 from beyond the arc, in an overtime loss to Indiana State.
After that he said he didn’t panic:
“I take a lot from JJ Reddick (New Orleans Pelicans), who’s a really good shooter. No matter how it’s going you have to continue your routine and don’t try to change things because that can make it worse. You just have to keep grinding.”
And no one grinds more than Wampler does when it comes to working on his shot.
The summer he came to Wright State from Drake he said he made over 100,000 shots.
“I made 750 to 1,000 a day and kept track of them in a little book,” he said.
Nagy said he had confidence Wampler would shoot his way back into form:
“Nobody takes more threes than Bill, in terms of the work he puts in. …He’s got the green light.”
After Saturday’s game, Wampler said coming to Wright State was the best thing he could have done.
“I don’t think my career would be where it is now if I had gone somewhere else. The guys here helped mold me. And I’m not talking just basketball.
“I’m a different person than when I came here. I did a lot of growing up. I appreciate things more. I became a leader and I got to love the game again. It’s hard to play the game when you don’t love it.”