Bill Wampler has had a major impact on the Wright State basketball program since transferring from Drake, earning All-Horizon League honors and helping the Raiders win games at a higher clip than ever before.
His impact around campus may be harder to measure, but it’s been infinitely more substantial and figures to be longer lasting, since it deals with real-life issues.
Wampler went public about his ongoing battle with depression for the first time in November 2018 while interviewed by the Dayton Daily News. He showed off a tattoo with a mental-health slogan, “The sun will rise and we will try again.” He displayed another that reflects his passion for suicide prevention that says, “Stay Alive.”
The senior forward — who will be honored with classmates Cole Gentry and Jordan Ash on Senior Day at the IUPUI game at 2 p.m. Sunday — had suffered in silence because of the stigma attached to mental illness, especially for men. But he decided to open up because he thought it might be helpful for others.
He did another article on depression and anxiety last November along with women’s soccer star Destiny Johnson for the school newspaper, The Wright State Guardian.
“It’s a lot more common than people understand, especially in this day and age. Things happen all the time, and everyone handles trauma and grief in different ways,” he said.
“I’ve probably struck up thousands of conversations with just random people. People are DM-ing me on Twitter and saying, ‘Hey, I appreciate it. How’d you get through this?’ I’m more than willing to talk to anybody about anything.”
Wampler admits he still goes through dark times, but he has the tools to fight it.
Letting his guard down has turned out to be cathartic.
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“I’ve bottled things up from a young age — a lot of anger,” he said. “But as soon as I talk about it, it just gets released.”
One of his confidants is coach Scott Nagy, who first recruited the Wisconsin native while coaching at South Dakota State. When Wampler was looking to transfer after his sophomore season in 2016-17, Wright State was an obvious landing spot.
“The year he sat out (after transferring) was a good year for him. As a basketball player, it was. And as a man, it was,” Nagy said. “He’s been a joy to coach.”
The 6-foot-6 Wampler leads the team in scoring at 15.3 per game after averaging 14.9 last season. He’s also first in 3’s with 57 while hiking his percentage from 36.4 to 40.7 this season.
He’s on pace to became the 34th member of Wright State’s 1,000-point club — if Gentry doesn’t get there first.
Wampler has 908 points as a Raider (and 408 in two seasons at Drake), while Gentry has 926.
“I think I’ve developed into a better player than I ever could have hoped for,” Wampler said. “I came here probably just as a catch-and-shoot guy. Now, I feel more like a guard.
“It’s the best culture I’ve ever been around. These guys just want you to succeed. They couldn’t care less about the basketball part of it. It’s more about off the court. And off the court, I’ve really grown.”
Nagy will stick with his Senior Day tradition of holding the ceremony after the game, which is a gamble since a defeat could spoil the event. But since the Jaguars are 6-20 and in last place in the league, that’s probably not much of a concern.
“We’re going to celebrate these guys and what they’ve done for us whether we win or lose,” Nagy said. “You do run that risk of guys being emotionally down, but I don’t care. It gives you more time at the end of the game.
“Hopefully, fans will stick around, and I think they will because they know what this class means to us.”
The Raiders are 21-5 overall — and first in the conference at 11-2 — and are on pace for their most wins and best winning percentage in 33 years in Division I.
“I’m very thankful to be here,” said Gentry, who is in his third year as the starting point guard after transferring from South Dakota State. “I’m very grateful for all the support — from my teammates, the coaches, the fans and everybody that’s part of this program.
“There’s no doubt I’m going to miss it. I’m just trying to leave it in the best place it could possibly be. I think we’re in the process of doing that. We’ve got some things we still want to accomplish, but the seniors are leaving ourselves with some good memories.”
Nagy called Gentry “a tremendous player. He’s such a competitor. I’ve had very few kids in all my years that work as hard as he does.
“There’s times I have to ask him to get out of the gym. It isn’t very often you have to ask a player to do that. He’s a basketball nut, way more than I am. He watches every game (to scout opponents). He’s just a winner.”
Ash has been a key backcourt sub after arriving as a grad transfer from Northwestern this season. He’s played in all 26 games, and while he’s averaged just 3.8 points, he’s third in assists at 1.9 per game.
“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve had,” Gentry said. “He’s a great defender, and his voice is great in the locker room, in the huddle and during the games. That’s one of the biggest things — his leadership has been some of the best I’ve seen.”
Nagy has noticed Ash being a steadying influence — like last weekend when the Raiders found themselves in a pair of tight games against lesser foes.
“When things got tough, he did a real good job of keeping the guys together. And he’s been like that all year,” Nagy said.
Wampler said he has mixed feelings about his final home game — mostly because he’s afraid of personally going out on a sour note. Seriously.
“If you look at my home and away splits, I haven’t been very good playing at home,” he said.
Before exploding for a combined 45 points in two games last week, he was averaging a scant 12.9 at home. Away from the Nutter Center, his average is 15.5.
But even if he happens to finish with a dud, he knows how to deal with the disappointment.
His time at Wright State has taught him not to keep things to himself.
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