CHAMPAIGN — It’s easy to tell if Chanice Willis is passionate about something.
When the Champaign Central senior is discussing a topic of deep interest, she’ll let out a long, happy sigh.
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That happened twice Friday, prior to a preseason camp-concluding practice with the Central marching band.
There was a sigh for basketball, and another for music.
“When I picked up the ball (for the first time in sixth grade), it just felt more natural,” Willis said. “It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s just so much different.”
“I’ve been interested in music since like forever,” she continued. “I can read music, but it’s easier to learn by ear because you hear sounds and how things just come together. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Willis is finding a way to keep both ventures within her high school life.
She’s a reigning News-Gazette All-Area girls’ basketball first-team selection after averaging 16.6 points, 2.7 assists and 4.0 steals for a relatively young group of Maroons last season.
And Willis is going on her third year beating the snare drum for the Central marching band.
So which is tougher: Getting in proper hoops shape or spending a week under the summer sun in preparation for a new band campaign?
“That’s really close,” Willis said. “Here it’s more being able to multitask while being in the heat and while you’re moving. But I definitely say conditioning (for basketball) is harder.”
There’s a reason for that opinion. Willis is actively revamping how she goes about getting the best from herself on the court.
She engages in after-school workouts with Maroon football players. She rises at 6 a.m. — “that’s the earliest I can wake up” — to get a run in. And she’s changing her diet “to get myself healthy.”
All of this is going toward Willis’ final prep season — and a desired college career afterward.
“I plan to do a lot of big things for my senior year,” Willis said. “I really, really, a thousand reallys want this. So much.”
Before Willis strapped on her drum to start the month of August, she spent a bulk of the summer competing for the AAU’s Illinois Aristocrats.
Easy enough choice, considering Central girls’ coach Pancho Moore is that program’s director.
Then again, Willis said she knew maybe two of her teammates before the start of this season, her second with the Aristocrats.
“It wasn’t like a stable role that I had to play there. It was very diverse,” Willis said. “It wasn’t a lot of pressure, but it was also still coming together to do things and knowing what I had to do.”
That differs somewhat from Willis’ spot at Central.
The 5-foot-7 guard was asked to play big minutes and take a majority of the Maroons’ critical shots on a squad that carried no senior starters last winter.
Considering “she “wasn’t really big on shooting” in the past, that offered Willis a chance to grow athletically.
She’s hopeful there’s more of that on the horizon.
“Getting up and down the court — like I can do it, but I won’t be as fast toward the end, and that’s what I need to work on,” Willis said. “And being more confident in going left (to the basket), because I know I can do it, I just choose not to because it’s uncomfortable. So I have to get comfortable.”
Beyond team success, Willis’ biggest mission for 2019-2020 is to crack 2,000 career points. She presently sits at 1,291.
“It might sound a little crazy once you think about it,” she said, “but I don’t think there’s an impossible.”
And of course, there’s next-level consideration. Willis said she’s received interest from Northern Illinois, Ball State, Indiana State and Illinois-Chicago, among other women’s hoops programs.
Before Willis can get started with any senior basketball business, however, there’s marching band duties to contend with.
Having a mother who attended college as a music major, this exploit always was in Willis’ blood.
It started with fourth bass drum at Carbondale Middle School.
Then, after moving to Champaign and missing her freshman-year tryout with the Maroons, Willis returned to the marching band realm during her sophomore year.
Her eventual instrument: snare drum, a significant size step down from the bulkier fourth bass.“They move us around during auditions. Try tenor, try bass, try snare and try some of the pit stuff,” Willis said. “I guess me and the snare just clicked at that moment.”