Northwestern basketball fans already know all about Tre Demps.
His ability to score from anywhere on the court, knock down clutch three-pointers and command the ball in the waning moments of a close game – anyone with even a casual interest in Northwestern basketball should know all about that. They probably know that under second year head coach Chris Collins, the redshirt junior Demps became an ideal sixth man, someone who can come off the bench to inject some life into the ‘Cats offense or run the second unit when the starters need a rest. They might even know that Collins named Demps a team captain this year.
What’s more surprising about Tre Demps, is that none of that should have been surprising.
The son of NBA player Dell Demps, Tre was practically born and raised on a basketball court. He said he has fond memories of going to the gym with his father, who played for the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic during his career.
“When I was younger, I was around the gym all the time. My dad was going to workouts and when I was really young he was still trying to play himself,” Tre said. “I think being around the gym is just kind of a safe haven for me. It’s somewhere where I’m really comfortable just because I was there from an early age.”
Tre's father retired from basketball in 1997 and became an NBA executive, a job that took him around the country between positions with several different teams. He eventually settled in San Antonio, back with the Spurs as director of player personnel.
Just as Dell was beginning to find his niche as an NBA executive, Tre was developing into a force on the basketball court. It continued to be a place where he and his father could find common ground.
“You go to the gym, that was kind of the time that we bonded and had father-son time,” Tre said.
At Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Demps was twice named an all-district athlete and averaged double digits all three seasons. He chose Northwestern over several other power conference schools, staying in Evanston even after the coach who recruited him, Bill Carmody, was fired after his freshman season.
When Collins was brought in during Tre's sophomore year, he immediately redefined the role Demps would have on the team. Running a pro-style offense that was markedly different from the Princeton offense favored by Carmody, Tre put up the best numbers of his Northwestern career. He averaged ten more minutes of play time per game, while also scoring more and shooting at a highest percentage of his career.
“As you get older, it’s about winning so [I’m willing] to do whatever it takes. Right now the plan is for me to continue to stay in that sixth man role,” Tre said.
No player was better off the bench last year than Tre, who was third on the team in both minutes and scoring despite starting just six games. He also led the team in scoring five times, including in the ‘Cats double overtime victory over Purdue and Big Ten tournament upset over Iowa.
Tre said that being the first man off the bench is a role he enjoys and one he has become familiar with during his time at Northwestern.
“I think the one thing I’ve just tried to pick up is the mindset…of how you have to prepare yourself on the bench in those four to six minutes that you’re out,” Tre said. “You just try to read the game and see how teams are playing you. When you’re in there it’s kind of like [you’ve already been in the game] because you’ve already been examining what’s been going on out there on the court.”
As Tre adjusts to his role as a leader off the bench, he’s got plenty of family knowledge to fall back on. While he rose from a high school star to a college captain, his father has experienced a similar career trajectory.
After retiring from basketball, Dell bounced around a few front office jobs with different NBA teams. But in 2010, he got the call that every basketball executive dreams of; the New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans) wanted to make him their general manager.
As GM of the Pelicans, Dell has overseen one of the NBA’s most successful rebuilding projects, turning New Orleans from a moribund team after the departure of Chris Paul into a legitimate playoff contender built around star power forward Anthony Davis, a player the team drafted under Dell.
Both father and son are busy leading basketball teams on opposite ends of the country, but that doesn’t mean they don’t find time to talk to each other or lend support.
“As I’ve gotten older he’s kind of let go a little bit and let me enjoy the ride. But he’s done a great job if there’s something kind of X’s-and-O’s-wise that needs to be tweaked,” Tre said.
But Demps said he also realizes the unique benefits of having a retired NBA player and GM as a father.
“We text pretty frequently and he’ll let me know some thing that he sees,” Tre said. “It’s nice getting that other perspective, especially because he knows the game.”