Will pitch, hit and shoot...

Tazewell senior Sidney Willis, also a talented pitcher for the Bulldogs’ baseball team, is looking to help generate some wins on the basketball court. 

Staff photo by Brian Woodson

TAZEWELL, Va. — Sidney Willis is already proficient from 60 feet 6 inches.

Now the talented Tazewell southpaw wants to be the same inside the paint, less than 10 feet from the basket.

The 6-foot-4 senior has a future on the diamond, but is focused now on his fourth and final season on the hardwood.

“I am all right. I would say I am better at baseball,” Willis said. “I play basketball just to stay in shape. I like it too.”

Willis is trying to help turn around the fortunes of Tazewell boys basketball, which has won three games in his three years with the Bulldogs.

He see those numbers improving in the season ahead.

“We have got to play as a team. If we play as a team we have got it,” Willis said. “I think we have got all the right stuff to make it work.”

Willis does finally has stability in the coaching staff, with Patrick Cronce back for his second season with the Bulldogs, which stopped what had become a revolving door of one-year coaches since Lee Walker left in 2012.

“I believe that helps a lot,” said Willis, of finally having the same head coach for the first time in his varsity tenure at Tazewell. “It was different. You have to adapt to them. They want to run it the way they want it.”

Cronce is glad to have Willis on his side, with hopes of developing his inside game to take advantage of his length and athletic ability. That will be in sharp contrast to the past when Willis liked to step outside the arc for 3-point opportunities.

“I like to shoot, but I guess I have got to do what I have got to do down low,” Willis said. “Last year I had a lot of numbers, a lot of 3s. I had a high percentage of made 3s last year. I played the high post a little bit. I will get one occasionally (this year), but most of them will be down low.”

That works for Cronce.

“He has picked it up. I think this year, being 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, he is buying into playing a little more inside instead of drifting to the perimeter,” Cronce said. “That has been his M.O. in the past, but I think we have kind of got him to stay in the paint a little bit.”

Willis is used to thriving in a confined space. He is a terrific southpaw pitcher, who has been receiving attention from college recruiters and professional scouts with his ability on the mound.

“I am going to try to go to the next level,” Willis said. “I have talked to Radford and ETSU and I had the Kansas City Royals call me. I have got a few options.”

He might have more with another big season. He was 6-2 last season for the Bulldogs, with a minisule 1.731 ERA, striking out 117, walking just 24 and allowing just 15 earned runs and even picked up a save in leading Tazewell to within a late night final inning loss of a berth in the state’s final four.

Willis, much like Zak Wasliewski, a former Bulldog, who could also pitch and hit, can do much the same. He batted .289 with 2 home runs, 29 RBIs, 25 hits and 13 stolen bases.

No wonder Willis will be ready for spring to arrive.

“I am pretty excited,” he said. “I am ready for it to come back around. It will down to the pitching.”

He knows where to turn for advice. Former major league closer Billy Wagner is a Tazewell alum, and Willis has spoken with him about his future.

“I talked to him a little bit,” he said. “We played him in a travel tournament a few months ago and I gave him some information.”

Willis could certainly have made a good target for a quarterback on the gridiron, but that sport isn’t for him.

“I stay away from football. I already had a concussion, I don’t need another one,” said Willis, who was injured during basketball season last year.

Baseball can wait for now. Willis enjoys being on the hardwood, hoping to help turn Tazewell into a threat on the hardwood. 

He has started strong, contributing eight points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists in a win Friday over Twin Valley, and had eight points, three boards, three blocks and two steals in a close loss to Bland County.

Willis liked what he hadseen early on from the Bulldogs, who are 1-1 heading into a rematch with Bland County on Tuesday.   

“I think we have got something this year,” Willis said. “We have got the stuff, we have got the shooters and the post so I believe we will be all right.”

Tazewell has been a punching bag in recent seasons for just about everyone, including county rivals Graham and Richlands, who have had success with the bouncing ball. Willis is ready for some payback.

“They are going to get a little bit of what we got last year,” he said, with a smile. “I am excited for it.”

Cronce is optimistic enough about the Bulldogs to aspire for big goals in the season head. Could Tazewell really reach double figures in the win column.

Willis thinks so.

“I think it is possible,” Willis said. “My goal is to play as a team and win a few games.”



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