When Stan Johnson, Marquette men’s basketball’s associate head coach, was an assistant at Arizona State University, he took a chance on Connors State College transfer Willie Atwood.
“Stan was one of the guys that gave me an opportunity coming out of junior college,” Atwood said. “My relationship with Stan is a good relationship, a straightforward type of relationship.”
Four years later, Johnson is giving Atwood another opportunity to play basketball – in The Basketball Tournament 2018 on Marquette’s alumni team.
Atwood will be one of three non-Marquette alumni on Golden Eagles Alumni. Brett Prahl, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate, and Cinmeon Bowers, a Milwaukee native, joined the team a few weeks after Atwood’s addition. However, Atwood is the only player without any connection to Marquette or Milwaukee.
Adding the first non-Marquette alum to Golden Eagles Alumni was relatively simple, Johnson said.
“It was a very casual conversation,” Johnson said. “I asked (Dan Fitzgerald) how it was going. He said, ‘I would probably use another guy with some size,’ and that’s how it came about.”
Atwood, who has remained in touch with Johnson since they were together at ASU, quickly came to mind. Johnson knew Atwood recently returned from playing overseas and was already familiar with TBT.
“He’s somebody that I love deeply,” Johnson said. “He believed in (ASU) and me … He’s a guy that I’m always going have a relationship with.”
It made the decision to join Golden Eagles Alumni a no-brainer.
“He just asked me, ‘Did I hear about the tournament?’” Atwood said. “I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Would you like the opportunity to play in it?’ and I was like, ‘Of course.’”
Johnson and Atwood’s friendship dates back to the 2014-’15 season, but Atwood’s opportunity to play for Johnson was limited to one season. Johnston left ASU in 2015 to take the assistant coach position at Marquette. Johnson was then promoted to associate head coach in 2017.
“I didn’t get a chance to finish out his senior year because I came here,” Johnson said. “I still live with that a little bit.”
Johnson’s year coaching Atwood still gave him enough time to see how dangerous the 6-foot-7 forward can be at different positions.
“Willie’s pretty versatile, and he’s a guy that can play every forward spot,” Johnson said. “From the three, four and five, (he is) more four and five than he is three and more four than he is five.”
Golden Eagles Alumni’s roster lists Atwood as a power forward, but his game hardly resembles a traditional power forward.
“He’s not going to back down anybody, but can post up and score around the basket and can take you outside as well,” Johnson said. “He’ll add maybe an addition that they haven’t had in the past.”
Atwood described his role as a “face-up guy,” saying he can “relax and shoot it” while having a good inside game.
In his junior year with Johnson, Atwood had limited opportunities to score, taking 15.5 percent of the Sun Devils’ shots. He made the most of the shot opportunities from long range, shooting 35.5 percent from three-point range and 33 percent from two-point range. The Memphis native improved his two-point shooting during his senior season to 49 percent.
He will make his Golden Eagles Alumni debut Saturday as Marquette hosts the Johnnies at the Al McGuire Center at 4 p.m. If Golden Eagles Alumni win, they will play the winner of Georgetown’s alumni team, Jack Attack, and Seton Hall’s alumni team, Hall In.
And once Golden Eagles Alumni take the floor Saturday, Atwood expects the transition from ASU’s maroon and gold to Marquette’s blue and gold to be seamless.
“Right now, looking at the roster like we have a lot of wings, forwards and guards. I give opportunity,” Atwood said. “Once I get the plan and the guys get to know me, I know it’s going to be like we are brothers.”