Willie Atwood came to ASU as a highly-touted junior college prospect out of Connors State. As a third-team JuCo All-American, Atwood was expected to contribute immediately, but his debut season in Tempe was up-and-down. However, Atwood flourished as a senior for ASU head coach Bobby Hurley after slimming down in the offseason and regaining his confidence.
As a senior, Atwood averaged 8.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He tallied double-digits 17 times last season, a far cry away from the 2014-15 season in which Atwood failed to score a single point. Atwood ranked at or near the top on the team in offensive rating (118.5, second), plus-minus (+4.9, first) and effective field goal percentage (48 percent, fourth), according to sports-reference.com.
In May, the Memphis-native became the first in his family to earn his college degree.
We caught up with Atwood to see what he's been doing since graduation from ASU, and what his future in basketball looks like.
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Zac Pacleb: So what have you been doing since graduating from ASU?
Willie Atwood: After the season, after my (wrist) injury, I just tried to rehab and stuff with my wrist. I went up to Baltimore to do some rehab stuff up there, came back to school, trained with my assistant coach Levi Watkins and got a couple workouts in with the team.
Lately, I've been down in Miami. I've been down here for the past two weeks doing pre-draft skill training with Elite Training out of Miami. Good competition down here. Jalen Jones from Texas A&M is going to be here with me, Jameel McKay from Iowa State, (Abdel) Nader from Iowa State, (Anthony) Cat Barber from North Carolina State - you know, that's some of the guys that's going to be in the pro day there on June 4.
Right now, it's supposed to have 26 teams and four general managers there.
ZP: You brought up your wrist injury (against USC). How bad was it?
WA: It was really bad. It hurt to shoot. It hurt to bang it against anybody. I could barely power dribble on it, but I had to try to stick it through. I really couldn't produce anymore, but I just had to try to be out there.
ZP: What's your status right now?
WA: I'm back. I'm back.
ZP: Glad to hear it. So you're in Miami now. What has been the focus? What have you been trying to work on and what will you try to showcase?
WA: Right now, I'm just sharpening up my dribble moves. I'm going to be more of a wing on the next level, and when I try to get to the NBA, I'll be a wing. I've been really focusing on my shot more. I've been doing a lot of competitive shooting, shooting from long range, off ball-screens, really got to do pick-and-roll stuff, stuff I'm not used to doing.
ZP: Have you been talking to scouts or any teams? What kind of feedback have you received as far as what your projections are?
WA: My agent handles all of that. The pro day will give me a good chance to - because I didn't get invited to the NBA Draft Combine - this is like a big combine. There's going to be great competition there with me, and there's going to be a lot of teams. I'll have my shot there.
ZP: When you first got to Arizona State, you were trying to put on weight. Coming into this season, you lost a lot of weight, so what kind of physical tools are you trying to work on?
WA: I'm not trying to get any bigger, just get stronger. Pretty much, I'm not going to be a superstar coming into the (NBA). I'm going to be more like a 3-and-D guy, catch-and-shoot, make open shots and play great defense.
ZP: So let's say the pro day comes and goes, and a team offers you a Summer League or teams overseas come calling. What are your thoughts on those two options? Do you have a preference?
WA: If I get offered by a team, they put me in the D-League, give me NBA money, I'll stay, but I'm not just staying in the D-League just to be in there, so then I'll go overseas.
ZP: OK. So let's get into your training a little bit. What's the atmosphere been like with all those different guys from all over the country, guys you've played against?
WA: I played against Jalen Jones this season, and it's fun. We talk back about the college days a lot. Those guys are competitive, so there's a lot of high-major guys down here.
It's really competitive in the workouts, shooting drills, 3-on-3s, stuff like that. Guys really get after it. I'm just trying to keep myself cooling, you know? We didn't win a lot this year, but they know me. My name is out there a little bit.
ZP: Did you want to say anything to the ASU fans?
WA: Just let them know what I'm doing. I'm working. Pro day is coming up, just trying to make it to the League any way I can.