Will Conroy: Defining His Own Journey to the NBA
It's not often that walk-ons start in college. It's not often that they become the program's all-time leader in assists, either. And it's especially not often that they make the NBA. But then again, Will Conroy isn't your typical walk-on.
Hailing from the basketball powerhouse of Seattle, Conroy played on the same high school team as current Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy. A compact, strongly-built kid who is effective both in the half court and in transition, he has just the type of winning attitude and demeanor coaches look for in a lead guard.
With an impressive high school pedigree, he considered the likes of Providence, Pittsburgh and Xavier for college, but ultimately the lure of staying home proved too great. "UW offered earlier that summer but I wasn't ready to make a decision, and I waited it out," he said.
Share But by that time, Washington had no athletic scholarships left to give. Conroy, though, was determined to be a Husky. "I didn't want to go that far back east."
After a spirited affair against rival Franklin High School, a team that featured McDonald's All-American and current Houston Rocket Aaron Brooks, a UW assistant coach approached Conroy.
"He was like, 'You wanna come to Washington?' and I was like, 'yes' and he said 'let's do this,'" Conroy said. "At that point I didn't care (that no scholarships were available)." As fate would have it, another recruit failed to qualify academically, and Conroy had his scholarship.
After a solid freshman campaign that saw him start the final third of the season, Conroy was well on his way to the career he had envisioned. "You dedicate yourself because you never know when your chance will be," he said. "It was a testament to how hard I was working."
When new head coach Lorenzo Romar took over the next season, Conroy immediately respected his outlook. "Coach Romar said everybody had to earn their spot," he said. "He didn't care what happened last year." Despite scoring in double digits in both his sophomore and junior years, Conroy opted to make a significant change in his playing style under the tutelage of Romar.
"I remember sitting down and him saying, 'Will, you have a special ability to make guys around you better. You have to make the decision whether or not you want to be the point guard.' Initially my sophomore and junior years I scored, (but) I fell in love with being a pass-first guard."
Just like that, the transformation for Conroy was clear. As a senior, he averaged 6.4 assists while maintaining a commendable 46 percent field goal percentage, all en route to leading UW -- alongside longtime teammate Brandon Roy -- to the school's first No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Along the way, Conroy took a piece of history home with him as well, setting the school's all-time record for assists.
When the summer of 2005 came, Conroy had high hopes, and rightfully so. He had worked out well at the Portsmouth Invitational, the pre-draft camp for the top collegiate senior prospects, and felt he had potentially played his way into the second round. On draft night, though, he waited, and waited, and waited some more. But his name was never called.
Scouts wondered if he was too small at 6-2 to handle a pro-style offense, or if he was simply a scoring guard trapped in a point's body? Was he laterally quick enough to create for others as well as defend faster guards? Undeterred by this traffic stop and eager to prove the skeptics wrong, Conroy once again went to work.
For two grueling seasons he played for the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League, followed by three NBA call-ups and two stints with elite European teams, Virtus Bologna and Olimpia Milano. But while his improved play has earned him five separate call-ups from the D-League to the NBA – including two by Houston – he still hasn't made a roster out of camp nor has he played a full season in the association.
That said, he maintains a healthy relationship with the Rockets, including head coach Rick Adelman, who has expressed to Conroy how much he admires his game.
"Coach said, 'You have the ability to pass,'" Conroy said. "Right now I'm getting 10 assists and [six] rebounds. At the next level I'm definitely going to be a point guard."
After becoming the final cut in Rockets training camp last fall, Conroy could have bolted back to Europe for a more lucrative contract and lush lifestyle. But that just wouldn't be Conroy. Committed to showing NBA teams' his desire to find a permanent home, he wanted to stay as close to home as possible, right under the radar of any potential suitor.
"I stuck because I was close to making the Rockets," he said. "I'm still really close with the Rockets. Different things happen as it gets close to camp. At this point, the coaches and GMs know I'm a veteran and they know what they're going to get out of me."
Make no mistake -- both the talent and production are there. Conroy is the first player in D-League history to reach the 3,000-point mark and is its all-time leading scorer. In 49 games for Albuquerque last year, he averaged a healthy 26.5 points while maintaining his steadfast commitment to the pass, averaging 8.0 assists, clearly demonstrating he can both score and pass at extremely high levels.
This is unquestionably been a long journey for Conroy. What's perhaps most impressive is how he's successfully balanced the fine line between being himself and playing his own game, along with adapting to life as true facilitator of the basketball but not shying away from his patented attacking style of play. He's averaging 16 points on nearly 52 percent shooting, highlighting his rare ability to get to the basket almost at will.
But his voyage is well worth it.
"My goal is to reach the NBA and stick," Conroy says.
Something tells me he will.