It’s safe to say Damien Wilkins’ NCAA tournament bracket was busted since day one.
“I had [Georgia] winning it actually,” said the former Georgia player. “People thought I was crazy. I had to, I couldn’t go with anyone else.”
Wilkins’ loyalty didn’t do him any favors. Georgia lost it’s opening round match up against the Washington Huskies.
Despite their shortcomings in the postseason, Wilkins was impressed with this year’s Bulldog team.
Comparatively speaking, of course.
Wilkins, now with the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA, was a member of the 2002-2003 Georgia team, the last Bulldogs team to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
“I would always say our team was the best team that was there,” said Wilkins. “Their inside presence actually now is much better than what it was we was there. We had all perimeter guys.”
As talented as they were, the university decided to forfeit any postseason appearances due to NCAA infractions involving former head coach Jim Harrick and his son and assistant coach Jim Harrick, Jr.
Now in his seventh NBA season, Wilkins sees a bright future for his alma mater.
“I think they had a pretty good year, I was surprised that they got into the tournament after they didn’t win that second game in the SEC tournament, but we got there,” said Wilkins. “I think Coach Fox is doing a great job, he’s got a good start. Hopefully we can continue that success in years to come.”
As for his current team, success has been prevalent but a bit underwhelming. The Hawks are 44-33 fifth in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining. Most teams are happy about simply being in the postseason, but Wilkins and the Hawks expect more.
When asked about how he assesses his season personally, Wilkins took a team-first approach.
“I always assess any season I’m having based on the team success. So far we’d probably grade us all about a B, a B- because we have so much potential we just haven’t played into it yet,” said Wilkins after defeating the Nets 98-87 on March26. ”It was good win for us tonight, but we’re so much better than what we have been in the recent weeks.”
When asked what has ailed the Hawks the most, Wilkins was tough, but fair.
“We just got to a better job of coming out and being consistent on both ends of the floor, particulary defensively. I think way too often we give up a lot of leads, we don’t play smart as far as our shot selection…we can’t keep those type of things up we got to be better than that” said Wilkins. ”We can’t limp into the playoffs, we want to go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence and swagger, so we got [a couple] more games to get that right.”
Until the postseason begins, Wilkins is prepared to continue to be prepared. Averaging only 12 minutes per game this season, head coach Larry Drew uses Wilkins as a skilled wing defender with the responsibility of stopping players like LeBron James. If not, Wilkins often has to take a seat on the bench and wait for his name to be called.
“It’s challenging,” said Wilkins when asked about his role on the team. “If anyone whose been in this position, they’ll probably tell you it’s tougher to do what I do than it is to be a starter, because you never know when your number is going to get called.”
“I just try to do everything the right way on and off the floor…just try to stay prepared as I possibly can be and let everything else take care of itself.”
A little advice from his father Gerald Wilkins a 13-year NBA veteran (and brother of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins) helps too.
“My dad always had a saying, ‘just hurry up and wait’ and that’s what It try to do. I try to stay humble, try to stay ready, try to stay patient and when the opportunity comes, try to take advantage of it.”