MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Memphis native Trey Draper has been around the game of basketball his entire life.
After playing for Mitchell High School and the University of Memphis, he quickly got into coaching returning to his alma mater under former Tiger Andre Turner – helping lead Mitchell to a state championship in 2016.
In the spring of 2019, Draper was an assistant at IMG Academy where the Ascenders took home a national title.
“I always been into the player development side,” said Draper. “How do you become a better shooter? How do you become a better passer? It’s more of a science.”
That same spring, he met Murray State guard Ja Morant.
“Ja Morant was the first one that entrusted us with his pre-draft process. So, Ja came down and did his pre-draft process at IMG. And from there the rest is history.”
Mo Wells, a former track star at LSU, was also at IMG that spring as a strength and conditioning coach.
They immediately forged a bond that would turn into a brotherhood.
“We had the all-conference and all state all those titles, but we weren’t the guys everybody expected to be the guy,” Wells said. “So, that kind of drew us together. We just kind of had the same similar work ethic. If I do something, I’m going to do it 120 percent no matter who I’m working with.”
A few months later, Morant was drafted by the Grizzlies with the No. 2 overall pick, a surreal moment for Draper.
“Some things are just divine, some things are just meant to be,” said Draper. “I just knew that when [the draft] happened, I knew that he would change the culture of Memphis.”
“It’s very unique because this is literally a generational talent, like from an on the court and off the court perspective,” Wells said.
In his third season with the Grizzlies, Morant was selected to his first NBA All-Star game as a west starter, dropped a career-high 52 points against the San Antonio Spurs, and led the franchise to its first ever division title.
He credits the success that he’s had this year to the work that he put in during the offseason, or the dark – with Draper, Wells, and JT Thomas.
“You say the dark, people think of negativity, but the dark for us is, you know what drew us all close together,” said Draper. “The underdog story, working when no one else was watching. When they see Ja next year, they’ll understand that, you know, we don’t know what he’s been up to, we don’t know what he’s been doing. And with the approval of Tee, his father, he was like hey, let’s get in the dark.”
“When it’s time to show the work, the work will be shown,” said Wells. “That was really evident this year. You know, he missed some games due to some bad landings, or some bad cuts, but outside of that he’s been nothing short of phenomenal.”
Everything Draper learned growing up playing basketball in Memphis, he’s now instilling in Morant.
“For me to be from Memphis and to see little kids wearing his jersey and just to know that I can go have a conversation with him and just always put at the forefront of his mind like, hey, you’re impacting city and just so happens to be the city that I’m from.”