Former Tiger is part of a revolutionary training trio

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) – Memphis native Trey Draper has played basketball his whole life.

After playing for Mitchell High School and the University of Memphis, he quickly became a coach 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 won a national title.

“I’ve always been on the player development side,” Draper said. “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 to entrust us with his pre-project process. So Ja came 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 brotherhood.

“We had the conference and everyone declared all these titles, but we weren’t the guys everyone was expecting,” Wells said. “So that kind of brought us closer. We just kind of had the same similar work ethic. If I do something, I’m going to do it 120%, no matter who I work 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,” Draper said. “I just knew that when [the draft] happened, I knew it was going to change the culture of Memphis.

“It’s very unique because it’s literally a generational talent, like from an on-court and off-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, lost a career-high 52 points to the San Antonio Spurs, and led the franchise to his very first division title.

He credits the success he’s had this year to the work he’s done in the offseason, or darkness — with Draper, Wells and JT Thomas.

“You say the dark, people think negativity, but the dark for us is, you know what brought us all together,” Draper said. “The story of the underdog, 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 did, we don’t know what he did. And with the approval of Tee, his father, he was like hey, let’s step into the dark.

“When it’s time to show the work, the work will be shown,” Wells said. “It was really evident this year. You know, he missed some games because of bad landings or bad cuts, but outside of that he was just phenomenal.

Everything Draper learned growing up playing basketball in Memphis, he now instills in Morant.

“For me to be from Memphis and see little kids wearing his jersey and just knowing that I can go and have a conversation with him and still put at the forefront of his mind like, hey, you impact the city and so much finds to be the city where I come from.

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Richard V. Johnson