Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sports

Regis grad Wampler suiting up for Team USA in Brazil

  • wir-Wampler-1-010817

    Eau Claire Regis grad Bill Wampler, who will suit up for Wright State this winter after transferring from Drake, was selected to play for the United States at the America Games later this month in Brazil.

    Associated Press

Bill Wampler has donned plenty of jerseys over the course of his basketball career.

There was the kelly green uniform, one he sported during a historic four years with Eau Claire Regis. Then there was the blue and white of Drake University, a jersey he played in for two years. He swapped that for Wright State’s white, green and yellow a year ago.

His next color scheme tops them all: Red, white and blue.

Wampler will play for the U.S. team at the FISU America Games in two weeks in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The soon-to-be Wright State redshirt junior is one of 10 American men who will look to bring home a gold medal from the basketball court.

“It’s an honor to be able to wear your country’s name on your chest, to be able to represent the U.S. in a foreign country and play the game you love against other national teams,” Wampler said.

The Games are a multi-sport tournament hosted by the International University Sports Federation, an organization which sponsors worldwide tournaments for university athletes.

The U.S. team is mainly comprised of players from mid-major college programs, although there will be four players from teams that made this year’s NCAA tournament. Wampler is one of them.

The former Regis standout redshirted this past season for Wright State. It was his first year at the school after transferring from Drake, where he averaged 9.6 points per game as a sophomore. He decided he needed a new start after two years at Drake, where he said basketball was starting to become less and less fun.

“It was getting tough to show up every day, and I felt like I needed somewhere new where I could be refreshed,” Wampler said.

Enter Wright State.

Raiders coach Scott Nagy recruited Wampler while he was the head man at South Dakota State, so the Eau Claire native already had a good feel for the Wright State staff.

“I knew them pretty well and knew (Nagy) was a really trustworthy guy,” Wampler said. “So it didn’t take much convincing for me to come here. It was kind of a no-brainer for me.”

The Raiders won the Horizon League tournament to reach the NCAA tournament this year, where they fell to third-seeded Tennessee in the first round.

Wampler couldn’t play in any games as a redshirt, but still made an impact on the scout team. He matched up with the Raiders’ starters in every practice.

“I’m an overall different player because I got the experience of playing as our opponents’ best player (on the scout team) every single week,” he said. “So whether that was a point guard or a forward, I got a lot of experience playing different positions. It was just a great opportunity for me to get better.”

Wampler helped the Raiders improve behind the scenes, but that’s not the flashiest way to get one’s name out there to be recognized by national coaches.

In that regard, it helped that the Wright State staff was well-connected and able to vouch for him.

Former Raider Grant Benzinger played on a trip abroad last year with the same organization that assembled this year’s U.S. team, leading the American coaches to ask Wright State’s coaches if there was anyone they should keep an eye on this time around.

As it turned out, there was: a 6-foot-6 forward from a city in northwest Wisconsin.

“I was surprised, because I haven’t played a minute yet here at Wright State on the floor. So it just shows how highly (the coaches) thought of me, which was awesome,” Wampler said.

Not long after, the guy with the second-most points in Regis history had an offer to represent the stars and stripes.

Wampler thinks the full weight of the opportunity will set in at the opening ceremony this Friday.

“I think the opening ceremony will be pretty emotional for all of us, to see that we’re actually going to be representing our country,” he said.

Basketball will be played from July 24-28. Wampler knows a couple of his American teammates, but will be playing alongside them for the first time. That includes Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald. Wright State and Northern Kentucky are rivals in the Horizon League.

“I’m excited to be able to play with those guys, see the game from their perspective and kind of pick their minds. Maybe get a few things from Drew McDonald so we can get the advantage over Northern Kentucky next year,” Wampler said with a laugh.

He’ll be playing with some players from Power Five conferences too, like DePaul’s Eli Cain and Texas A&M’s Josh Nebo. Cain averaged 11.7 points per game for the Blue Demons this season, and Nebo had to sit out due to transfer rules like Wampler.

The trip to Brazil not only gives Wampler a chance to bring home a gold medal, but also the opportunity to play in competitive games for the first time in over a year.

“It will be a good opportunity to get some on-court experience before the season to kick off the rust,” Wampler said. “I think it will be good for me to be able to do that, because obviously (Nagy) wants me to be able to hop right in for our college season.”

The Games’ closing ceremonies take place on July 28. Wampler just wants to soak in as much of the experience as possible before then.

“It’ll be awesome to see sports from different perspectives,” he said. “That’s probably what I’m most excited for.”


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