At the start of the summer, Isaiah Wilkins thought he would be going to Hargrave Military Academy. With only 1 Division I offer from High Point, Wilkins figured he would have better luck spending a post-graduate season at Hargrave to work on improving not only his basketball skills, but also his physical strength and conditioning.
Now, just over three months removed from his commitment to Virginia Tech, one of multiple late offers he received, his life has changed dramatically in a matter of weeks.
“It was definitely a hard decision, going to a great school like Hargrave, trying to go there and develop my body a little bit more, but I originally came here to redshirt,” said Wilkins. “It was just time for me to step up, so that’s what I did.”
Indeed, Isaiah Wilkins thought he was redshirting up until the very last week before the regular season. Surprisingly, he improved so quickly that the staff decided to reverse course. Wilkins recalled that it was the week before the season opener when head coach Buzz Williams told him that he would play this season. Williams himself offered an even more surprising statement.
After Friday’s game, Buzz Williams was specifically asked when he informed Wilkins of the decision. “Monday…four days ago,” he responded.
Williams said that it was not the attrition of losing Chris Clarke, but rather the development of Wilkins himself, that was the biggest factor in this decision.
“Our plan was to redshirt him from the first time that I met him,” Williams admitted. “I just think his rate of growth/improvement was drastically different than I anticipated…I knew he was smart; I didn’t think his body would change that quickly, but he’s just kept going, kept going. Thus far, I’m very impressed.”
Both Williams and Wilkins discussed the fact that Wilkins has lost over twenty pounds in the three or so months that he has been in the program. That kind of transformation is almost unprecedented. According to Wilkins, though, it has been paramount to his success.
“I’ve dropped a lot of weight,” said Wilkins. “My improvement over the last eight weeks has been crazy. I’m discombobulated by how much I’ve improved.”
To the outsider, this may sound like Wilkins is trying to talk himself up. That was not the case at all. His comments were more indicative of the fact that he has surprised even himself in what he has been able to achieve in a short period of time. Buzz Williams and his staff deserve a lot of credit for that.
Still, there are aspects of the college game that cannot be simulated. There are are some things you just cannot understand until you experience them in a live situation. Wilkins said the fast-paced nature of college basketball was one of those things for him.
“It was an eye opener,” he said after Friday’s game. “The pace is much, much, much different than high school. Trying to adjust to it, it’s more upbeat, but I like it.”
Wilkins had a successful outing by anyone’s standards on Friday, not to mention someone playing their first collegiate game. With 21 points and a 5-7 mark from three-point land, he tied Nickeil Alexander-Walker for the game-high in points. Wilkins also added 3 rebounds, a steal, and an assist in his debut.
And yet, in the midst of all this success, Isaiah Wilkins remained incredibly humble. In his post game interviews, he gave the credit to anyone but himself.
“That was Jesus, that wasn’t me,” said Wilkins. “It was Him moving through me. I mean, my teammates found me wide open in the corner, and I knocked it down.”
As someone who couldn’t imagine playing significant minutes for a top 20 team four months ago, Wilkins is simply thankful for the opportunity that the Hokies have given him. That speaks to the culture which Buzz Williams has so beautifully established within the program.
Williams will be the first guy to tell you that he does not just put someone on the floor for no reason. He has long, meaningful conversations with both the player and their parents about what will be best for the individual and the team in the long run. That’s what makes his decision to play Wilkins this year so telling.
So far, the decision has paid off. Isaiah Wilkins not only brings a great mentality and attitude to his team, he also brings some other positive attributes to this Virginia Tech team as a versatile scorer with a quiet confidence and plenty of humility.
“I’m a shooter, but I can also get to the rack,” said Wilkins. “I’ll help the team do what it takes to win.”
For a team that plays four guards most of the time, it’s very important to have a small forward-type player who can be effective in the paint. Wilkins can fit that role, but he can also stretch the floor with his quality outside shooting.
Wilkins admits there are still things that he needs to improve on, which one should expect with such a young player. After all, Williams said that Wilkins is the tenth youngest player in the country. For an under-the-radar recruit to have such a successful debut is no small feat.
Four months before the season, Isaiah Wilkins did not think he would be on a Division I basketball team this year. Heck, four days before the season, he did not think he would be playing in a game this year. Yet here he is, scoring 21 points in his college debut. If he can continue that level of improvement, who knows what Wilkins will be able to accomplish.