Updated Sat, Jan 19, 2013 1:14 pm
Former NBA All-Star Karl Malone is a legend when it comes to his accomplishments on the hardwood. Nicknamed “The Mailman” for his consistent delivery down low, Malone finished his career second in points, first in defensive rebounds, and with the most free throws attempted and made in NBA history.
Malone was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 and was ranked 18th in Slam Magazine’s Top 50 NBA Players of all-time in 2009. When the 6-foot-9 power forward was in his prime, nobody wanted to mess with The Mailman. He’d make you pay. He’d deliver.
There’s one player that has and never will be afraid to go against Malone’s wishes and make the two-time NBA MVP angry. It’s not Michael Jordan, even though Malone wasn’t a huge fan of M.J. back in the day. It’s not John Stockton, the point guard that Malone teamed up with to form a vicious duo in the 1990’s.
No, it happens to be a different point guard, someone Malone can relate to.
In fact, it’s blood-related.
Javarez Willis, who formally introduces himself by his nickname, “Bean,” has known The Mailman since the 6-foot guard was born into the family in 1989. Willis grew up watching his uncle play for the Utah Jazz, but has focused more on his career in recent years.
Willis had moderate success while playing at Texas Tech, even though the program struggled last season. The Red Raiders went 8-23 overall and 1-17 in the Big 12. Willis was among the six that decided to leave the program and was the only starter to do so. While in a Red Raider uniform last year, he averaged 8.1 points and 1.9 assists.
His next college destination ended up hurting his relationship with his uncle.
“We ain't on really too good of terms because of my transfer,” Willis said. “You know, he went to Louisiana Tech, so that's where he wanted me to go. I wanted to pursue my own dreams of what was best for me, not best for him.”
Malone experienced great success at Louisiana Tech and wished to see his nephew experience the same success at his alma mater.
Willis, though, decided to transfer to Ohio University and play for a team that returned an entire starting lineup from their 2012 Sweet Sixteen team. Louisiana Tech, on the other hand, has not been in the NCAA Tournament since 1991. They have not advanced to the Sweet Sixteen since Malone was in college.
Regardless of their current relationship, there’s no denying that having a blood-related NBA legend can help a young player growing up. Willis, however, never had an opportunity to have a lot of conversations about the game he and his uncle love, something he wishes could have been different.
“I grew up watching him play, but he was always busy. I was always busy playing basketball, and plus, I was in Louisiana while he got a home in Arkansas,” Willis said.
“I'm too busy to just give time to him like I want to.”
When he gets the opportunity to have conversations with his uncle, it’s not always friendly. Malone is nine inches taller than Willis. Their basketball perspectives are completely different.
“Me and him, we kind of argue when it comes down to basketball because he's six-eleven. So I don't feel like there's so much he can tell me,” Willis said. “I always tell him, you know, 'Put me on the (phone) line with John Stockton,' because I don't feel like (Malone) knows what he's talking about. That's just my opinion. I'd be more willing to talk to a point guard.”
Despite their differences, the two are still family. In essence, everything Willis has learned throughout his life came from a family member, from the game of basketball to his nickname.
The relative Willis went to the most for basketball advice growing up was his uncle, Reggie Morris.
Morris is a coach at Pinkston High School, where Willis attended, but ironically, it isn’t for varsity basketball.
“(Morris) coaches football at Pinkston High School, and I was at Pinkston when I was a junior, sophomore, senior,” Willis said. “He was the basketball coach for the freshman team, and he kind of just worked on my game a lot.
“He played point guard. He never played Division I, but if you watched him workout, you'd think he should've been somewhere. He's pretty good, but he basically taught me everything I know from when I was a youth.”
His uncle was the driving force behind Willis’ improvement in basketball, but he wouldn’t be the same person today if his mother and aunt didn’t pass the beans when he was a baby.
“Long story short, my mom told my auntie to pass the beans and my auntie didn't hear her. She was like, ‘What?’ So I heard bean then via repetition,” Willis said on the origin of his nickname. “So as a baby, when you hear something a couple times, that was the word I picked up on. Every time they asked me a question, I was like, 'Bean.' It was my first word besides mom, mama, dada.
“I go by Bean. I hate my first name Javarez.”
It’s been quite a road for Bean. He’s been sitting the bench this season for the Bobcats, waiting until it’s his time to play in the Convocation Center. As a transfer, life can be very difficult knowing he can’t play until next season.
The team has helped him out, though. Players like Jon Smith and Walter Offutt, who both have gone through the transfer process, have made it easier for Willis. The team atmosphere is what he has enjoyed the most, especially after coming from a basketball program going through a difficult time.
“The best thing I found out about them is that the reason why I think they're going to go far is that they're just a team. It's one love,” Willis said. “Everybody gets along well, and as you can see, when the ball's moving, we all play together well.”
Coach Jim Christian, who had a chance to see Willis play twice while coaching at TCU, likes having the options at point guard for next season, especially with D.J. Cooper graduating. He explains there’s a lot of basketball to be played, but he’s liked what he’s seen from Willis.
“It's hard because you're not practicing and preparing for a game. (Willis is) on the scout team, so he's not running a bunch of our stuff; he's running a lot of their stuff,” Christian said. “He's a really good athlete. He's a tough kid. I think the guys respect that from him.”
Willis shares the same respect towards Christian.
“I like the way Coach Christian plays. I think he's a great coach. I think his style of play is perfect for me, and I think I fit in his system,” Willis said. “I really think I understand, being here in the short time I've been here, how you can change and how you want to win. I think I fit into those categories.”
Wanting to win. That’s the kind of atmosphere Willis has been craving since he left Texas Tech. That’s what he was looking for when he went against his uncle’s desires by pursuing his own career at Ohio University, not Louisiana Tech.
It’ll take a year for him to hit the hardwood, but until then, he’ll be the practice player Christian wants him to be. Willis will watch from the sideline, as the Bobcats enter Mid-American Conference play, looking for their third NCAA tournament run in four years.
It’s only a matter of time before it’s his turn, but until then, he’ll keep doing what he does best.
Photo Credit: Kate Hiller