Cherry On Top

by Joe Gabriele, Beat Writer
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

It’s somewhat fitting that guard Will Cherry’s Summer League uniform number is “56.” He might be the smallest player on the squad, but the 6-0, 185-pounder plays like a linebacker.

The Wine and Gold’s pugnacious point guard has been doing daily battle with a player – Matthew Dellavedova – whose descriptions during his rookie season ranged from “pit bull” to “honey badger” to “Neanderthal.” It’s been the best matchup in the Sin City sessions, so far.

He and Dellavedova keyed the Cavaliers’ comeback in their Summer League opening victory on Friday night, combining for 16 points in the fourth quarter of a 70-68 win over Milwaukee. On Sunday, Cherry did almost all the heavy lifting in the fourth – going off for 14 points in the final period of a lopsided win over the Spurs.

In the victory, Cherry came off the bench to finish the game 9-for-13 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, adding seven boards, four assists and a steal.

After starring for the famed McClymonds High School in West Oakland – which produced NBA greats like Bill Russell and Paul Silas as well as streetball legend “Hook” Mitchell – Cherry went on to a stellar four-year career at Montana, where he was a three-time All-Big Sky selection and finished as the school’s all-time leader in steals with 265.

Last year, when the Charge lost Jorge Gutierrez, who was called up the Brooklyn Nets, and Ben Uzoh, who suffered a season-ending injury, Will Cherry signed with Canton, earned the starting point guard spot and never looked back. He appeared in 18 games, starting 12, and averaged 11.6 points, 3.7 boards and 4.5 assists per contest – netting three (point-assist) double-doubles along the way.

Cherry got better as the season unfolded, dropping 21 points on Maine in the Charge’s home finale and averaging 13.3 points, 5.3 boards, 8.3 assists and 2.0 steals in Canton’s three-game playoff run.

Over the next week-plus, Cherry will continue trying to show the Cavaliers and the rest of the squads in Vegas what his game is all about. sat down with the scrappy guard as he prepares for Game 3 of Summer League, with its tournament on the schedule later this week …

We know you’re a tough player, but what’s with the football number – “56”?

Will Cherry: (laughs) That’s crazy! When I saw it, I started laughing. I kind of told my friends back home: ‘They got in me in No. 56, man! It’s like I’m Bill Romanowski or something.’

Numbers don’t really matter to me, but the football player thing – that comes from just the intensity and the body-build, or whatever. Jordan Taylor (who’s with the Milwaukee Bucks Summer League team) has a lot to do with that. My junior year, when we made it to the Tournament, we played (Wisconsin) and I remember I couldn’t box him out because he was so strong.

So I went back to the weight room and just really got it in, and that’s really where that came from. The speed, I was just blessed with that.

You and Matthew Dellavedova are probably the two smallest guys on the squad here in Vegas, but you might be the two toughest players on the floor. How’s that battle been?

Cherry: Me and Delly, that’s a great matchup. We’re pushing each other and making each other better. You don’t want it any other way. Our two point guards – we’re the head of the snake – and just knowing, him being a starter and me possibly coming in off the bench, you won’t miss a beat with us two. The other guys know that Delly and I can both run the team well. And that’s kudos to him and me, just pushing each other on a nightly basis out here.

What’s your mission out here over these next week-and-change?

Cherry: For a person like me, in my position, I’m trying to make a roster and show everybody else out here in Vegas what I can do, especially being back healthy. And it starts here in practice. You want to be a high-intensity player in practice – that way it carries over into the game.

I’m an all-around player, but really the one key is to wreak havoc on the defensive end – get up into the opposing guard and make him soak up the clock, make his offense a little stagnant. If I’ve done that and we’re down to 14 seconds on the shot clock, I’ve done my job. And the coaches here have told me: pressure it up. They see me as a Patrick Beverly kind of guy, wreaking havoc and dictating where the ball goes.

And I want to make my man work on defense – push the ball down his throat, get my teammates easy baskets. My position is about making it easier for the other four guys on the floor. And that’s pretty much what I want to do.

You really made a name for yourself in the last two months of the season in Canton. Describe that late-season run.

Cherry: I give all the credit to my coaching staff – Coach Hetzel, who’s now with the Charlotte Hornets, James Posey, who’s here with us in Vegas, and my boy Jordy who’s in Canton. It was repetition with me in the film room – watching film before games, after practice, getting shots up with me and making the game a whole lot easier for me.

They shrunk the playbook once we got in some new players and just kind of told me to run the team and when plays are called, put people in position. But I’d say film is really the thing that helped me the most – seeing what I’m doing wrong and seeing what I can correct is a whole different aspect than them just telling me.

The knowledge I got from them over the last month or so was great, and I’m carrying it over to Summer League here with the Cavs. And that’s one thing me and Pose talked about – using what they taught me and bringing it out here. And the coaches are looking and saying: ‘We don’t have to tell him this; he’s been working on this from day one with the Canton Charge.’

How difficult is it – especially as a point guard – to join a team mid-season?

Cherry: It’s very tough. But, at the same time, it’s easy when you come in and try to suck everything up like a sponge. I sat there, shut up, zipped it, and listened. And I listened to the other guys that had been on the team since Training Camp. And I just learned from them, especially Jorge Gutierrez, he played a big part in that. And the little things that he was showing me – along with Steve and Jordy and Pose – really made the difference in my game.

Even though you scored and ran the team well in Canton, is defense really your calling card?

Cherry: Defense is just something you learn at an early age. From my perspective, defense is 90-95 percent effort. And a guy like me, I hate when I’m getting scored on. I take it personally. And I want to limit that person’s ability to score on me every time down.

The city of Oakland is notorious for putting out tough players – notably guards. What is it about ballplayers from there?

Cherry: That’s the city! It’s just our heart. We don’t care who’s in front of us. That’s our mentality – tough, gritty, hardnosed. We’re gonna get the job done. You can be the No. 1 player in the world – we don’t care, night-in night-out, we’re coming to bust your butt. That’s just the mentality of an Oakland ballplayer.

We’ve got Gary Payton, Brian Shaw, Jason Kidd, Damien Lillard. (Lillard) is from my area, same conference and everything. We grew up together playing basketball and we have the same mentality. What he’s doing right now, that’s how we were raised in our environment. The coaches we’ve had, they take no slack. Nothing’s easy from where we come from. We get down to business.

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