Dec. 1, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - C.J. Wilcox has waited longer than just his redshirt season last year to start his Division I career - and to wow everyone into thinking "Where'd this guy come from?"
The Huskies' redshirt freshman sharpshooter from Utah, coach Lorenzo Romar's new game-changer off the bench, has really waited four years.
Romar calls Wilcox one of the best long-range shooters he's had in his nine seasons at Washington. Tuesday he likened him to NBA super-shooter Ray Allen. That was after Wilcox swished a career-high 20 points in 23 minutes on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range in the 23rd-ranked Huskies' 102-75 rout of Long Beach State.
Wilcox was so good at Pleasant Grove High School in suburban Salt Lake City that he started for the varsity as a ninth grader. And hometown Utah offered him a scholarship when he was just a sophomore.
"I was focused on the University of Utah," the lanky, 6-foot-5 Wilcox said under the stands at Hec Edmundson Pavilion before a recent practice. "I figured I would go there."
And why not? He had free college waiting for him close to where his mother Mandy is a nurse treating cancer patients and his father Craig is a manager in the computer industry. But his dad, a former basketball player at nearby Brigham Young in the early 1990s who began teaching C.J. shooting fundamentals in fifth grade, told Wilcox to wait on committing to Utah until he could perhaps attract other options.
Wilcox led all Utah high schoolers by averaging 23.7 points per game as a junior. He was still thinking Utes when he went to Houston with his Salt Lake City Metro AAU team in April of his junior year at Pleasant Grove. That's where Huskies assistant coach Jim Shaw first saw him, shooting rainbows in the 2008 Kingwood Classic against a team from Compton, Calif. - the hometown of Shaw's boss, Romar.
Shaw watched more of Wilcox's AAU games in Houston, to make sure it wasn't just the kid's lucky day. It wasn't. Wilcox kept on draining jumpers all the way back to Salt Lake City. Shaw convinced Romar to check out this tall shooter who came off screens, turned and shot so accurately and with such balance from 20 feet you could swear it was two.
"His dad did a phenomenal job," Romar said of Wilcox's schooling in shooting fundamentals. "I mean, that's Ray Allen-type stuff the way he shoots the ball, the way he's always on balance."
Romar had seen the value of a consistent, long-range shooter in his fast-break system a few years ago when he had Ryan Appleby at UW. So he came to an open gym at Pleasant Grove High.
"I didn't know who he was," Wilcox said. "But my dad turned to me in the gym and said, `That's a really good coach watching you.'
"I really didn't know anyone from Washington, or anywhere else. I was focused on the University of Utah."
But once Wilcox learned Romar's Huskies played the same up-and-down, fast-paced style that he loved playing on his AAU team, it was see Ute later.
He signed with Washington, even with the understanding he may need to redshirt his first year.
Now, in the first weeks of his long-awaited college career, he's glad he did.
"Sitting on the bench all year you see things, you learn the system," he said. "It really helped me to focus on what I needed to do to contribute to this team."
Not that practicing all the time then watching the Pac-10 tournament champions reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAAs was easy.
"At the beginning it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," he said. "I was adjusting to everything, to school, to the team. But at the end of the season when we started winning, I wanted to be a part of that. That was tough.
"But I tried to look ahead and see the benefit it would have for me in the future."
Redshirting allows Wilcox to be their heir, with four full seasons of eligibility remaining as this season began.
"If I had a son and he wasn't going to be (an NBA) lottery pick, I'd redshirt him. That's how valuable it is," said Romar, a former NBA player with three daughters. "He doesn't look like a freshman trying to figure it out. He can coach our system.
"I think he's earned the respect of everyone in our program with the way he shoots the basketball."
He's sure earned Thomas'.
"I don't think he understands how good a shooter he is," Thomas said, shaking his head over Wilcox. "I mean, if I was a shooter like that I'd shoot it every time."
Thomas has been defending Wilcox in practice for one-plus seasons and countless open gyms. He says Wilcox got far more dangerous during that redshirt year by getting better at shooting off the dribble.
"Now, he's lethal," the national player-of-the-year candidate said. "He's going to surprise a lot of people with how good he is."
And wouldn't that just make those Utes, whom Washington will begin playing next season in the new Pac-12, sick?