Once a Bulldog, Always a Bulldog
March 2, 2012
By Elly Walker
By Elly Walker
Following Shepp and Wills' first two seasons at Fresno State, they transitioned into a new basketball environment, as Coach Rodney Terry became the new Bulldog head coach.
"They both are guys who really embraced changing a lot of things that they were accustomed to doing for a number of years," Terry said. "These guys really embraced the changes we were making and the culture we wanted to make. They have been very instrumental in establishing the culture and have laid a tremendous foundation for us. They came in and worked extremely hard, and have had really productive senior years for us."
Wills, who dreamed of playing professional basketball while growing up in Carson, Calif., is working with the coaching staff to develop connections in hopes to continue playing basketball after graduation, either with the NBA or overseas.
Shepp is also considering pursuing basketball, but his biggest question is deciding whether he will explore where basketball takes him or return home to Woodbridge, Virginia, where his 3-year-old daughter lives.
As they close in on making the final decision of where their post-college life will begin, Shepp and Wills are taking each day one at a time.
The teammates have showcased their game-changing skill and leadership for the men's basketball team. During Shepp's career at Fresno State, he has currently played 84 games and delivered 384 assists, which places him 6th in Fresno State's career assist records. He also leads the WAC this season in total assists and minutes played.
"We asked Steven to do a number of different things, but we asked him to initiate the offense and take care of the basketball, manage the game and we also asked him to really go up on the perimeter to one of the really offensive players on the other team," Terry said. "He has done a great job for us all year in doing so. We don't have a lot of depth, so he has to play a bulk of the minutes and he has been an iron man for us."
Meanwhile, Wills currently sports the seventh-best single season free throw percentage with a 96-for-113 clip (85 percent) and a mark of exactly 80 percent during his 60-game Bulldog career.
"Wills has been a guy who we asked to be more productive in scoring this year and he has done that for us. He is a guy, who has a really good basketball IQ, probably one of the smartest guys on the team, in terms of concepts, offensively and defensively, and it has really helped us in that regard and it has really given us some senior leadership."
A final season of college basketball, one last semester of classes, and reverie of graduation each manage to make the senior guards reflect on their past experience of college, the memories made, the friendships developed and lessons learned that will truly never be forgotten.
Shepp and Wills' reflection of the past two years as Bulldog athletes converge as their favorite thing about the team is the unity of the players, on and off the court, and the chemistry the team shares. Whether they push each other on the court, or joke with each other off the court, the team has built strong relationships with each other and become best friends.
Terry strongly influenced the two young men in terms of offering boundless new knowledge about not only the game of basketball, but also life.
"[Coach Terry] taught me that you must stay humble and stay true to yourself," Shepp said.
"You have to be a man 24 hours of the day; there aren't any days off of being a man," Wills said.
"I am hoping that the lessons and the things they have learned in basketball that they will be able to apply them later in life for themselves," Terry said. "I hope that they are able to go off and be great husbands and be great fathers and have productive careers in whatever endeavors they chose, whether that be to continue playing basketball or to get a job in corporate America."
Graduation does not mean Shepp and Wills will sever their relationship with Fresno State men's basketball once they receive their diploma because once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.
"I always talk about coming back and seeing my teammates play, I have always wanted to do that, even on away games," Shepp said. "Coming back will bring back memories of the team and myself."
"I told the guys I am going to try and catch them whenever I can, here at home or on the road, wherever," Wills said.
These two seniors guards have worked hard and persisted to make it to a D-I level, and as they both strive in continuing to reach their goals, they cannot emphasize enough on the importance of not giving up in what you do and what you love.
If any young kids are pursuing basketball, they must continue to persevere and not lose touch of their dream. A strong work ethic and a love for the game will get them to where they want to be.
"Work on your game, you can never quit working," Wills said. "The day you want to quit or take off, there is someone in the gym getting better."
"Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't do something. Just keep pushing. If basketball is what you love just keep pushing for it and it will come to you," Shepp said.
As Shepp and Wills face the closing chapter of their 2011-12 Fresno State men's basketball season, they say a final goodbye to playing basketball as a Bulldog athlete, but they will never truly say goodbye to the Bulldog family they found at Fresno State.
"We Are Your Team!" --- The `Dogs close the regular season by hosting New Mexico State on Saturday night at 7 p.m. PT. It is the Bulldogs' "Senior Night" and will honor Steven Shepp and Jonathan Wills prior to the game and features a special $21 single-game ticket package that also includes a hot dog and medium soda. You can listen to the 'Dogs all season on the radio dial at KMJ 580 AM. Make sure to also follow @RodneyTerry on Twitter for updates direct from the head coach.