April 18, 2013
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - C.J. Wilcox had agents and NBA teams telling him his sweet shooting stroke could have him banking cash in the league in mere months.
He had some teams telling him he'd be taken late in the first round in June, which would mean a guaranteed contract.
But the Huskies' most valuable player also had this: a unique, remarkable support system, headed by his father Craig, a former player at Brigham Young. That kept Wilcox's head clear and his perspective longer than the two months between now and the NBA draft.
And that is why the Huskies' leading scorer declared Thursday he is returning to Washington to play a fifth, senior season. He expects to be what coach Lorenzo Romar called a "cornerstone" and "potential All-America" around a more potent UW team in 2013-14.
"The main thing is that my dad and I were talking and thinking back to about when I first got here and the vision to redshirt my first year and have that last year to become the best player that I can be and lead the team," Wilcox said over the phone Thursday morning, minutes he made public a decision on which he had settled days earlier.
"We were not expecting the NBA to come into the picture so fast. That kind of got (us) off track and we lost track of the vision. We started to seriously consider it and meeting with agents.
"But at the end of the day we went back and wanted to finish what we started -- and come back for my fifth year and lead the team."
This is rare in this era of one-and-dones. Most star players at major programs aren't trying to find ways to stay in all college all four seasons. They are seeking the shortest route to stardom and paychecks in what they always talk about as simply "The League."
Yet Wilcox is choosing to play out his eligibility despite others telling how he could be in the NBA now, and despite already graduating this spring quarter with a sociology degree.
The best in Romar's program have largely bucked the national trend recently. Though Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten and Isaiah Thomas recently have left UW early for the NBA, Wilcox will be following Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter as recent Husky stars who bypassed a change to get drafted as underclassmen and stayed at Washington for their senior seasons.
Roy became the Pac-10 player of the year as a senior then was the sixth overall pick in the 2006 draft and eventually the NBA's rookie of the year. Brockman made first-team all-Pac-10 and was honorable mention All-America as UW's career rebounding leader while staying, then became the 38th overall choice in the 2009 NBA draft. Pondexter became all-conference and an honorable mention for All-America and then the 26th pick in 2010.
"It not only speaks to the qualities of C.J. but also his parents," Romar said of Wilcox's unconventional - and, by some, unexpected - choice to return. "His dad has been unbelievable in this process, to make sure this decision was calculated and so well thought out.
"As C.J. said, they had a plan from day one. They had a plan for C.J. to be the best player he could be here at Washington before moving on to the next level.
"They stuck with their plan. You don't see that much in this day and age."
Wilcox seemed likely to enter the draft in January, when he was leading the Pac-12 in scoring at over 20 points per game. But then soreness developed in his left foot. Team trainers proactively treated it as the onset of a possible stress fracture, keeping him out of practices and in a walking boot between games. Wilcox kept playing, but his shooting accuracy and scoring declined. He finished with an average of 16.8 points per game while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.
He has been resting the foot for the month-plus since Washington's season ended with a loss at Brigham Young in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, and he could have been relatively healthy for pre-draft workouts.
Wilcox received a formal evaluation a few weeks ago from the NBA's draft evaluation committee. Scouts and personnel officials for 20 teams in the league give feedback to underclassmen on their draft prospects. The deadline to ask for and receive such feedback is before the April 28 date by which underclassmen must declare for the NBA draft.
"Most of the projections were late first round to mid second round. Most of it was all jumbled up in there," he said. "We got feedback from 20 teams, so it wasn't the whole 30. Basically it was stuff that everyone already knew, so it wasn't a shock when we got it back. I met with agents to see what they were hearing, and stuff like that. I mean, it wasn't much of a shock, but I was just trying to get as much information as possible."
He ultimately concluded his NBA draft prospects would be better - perhaps first-round worthy - next year.
He will be UW's centerpiece in his final college season, on a healed foot and with what will be a far more potent roster around him this fall.
"A lot of the NBA doesn't know that I'm athletic and that I'm more than a stand-still shooter," Wilcox said.
"(They said) I need to continue to work on ball-handling and getting to the free throw line more. I need to be more of a leader and help the team get more wins ... stuff like that. There are a bunch of little things, but my main ticket is my ability to shoot the ball. That's not going to change. They just want to see me do a couple of other things."
Wilcox said at Washington's team banquet Tuesday night he had already made up his mind, even though he had another 10 days beyond Thursday to decide before the NBA's declaration deadline.
He is returning to a Washington team that will be re-loaded with many more offensive weapons than it had when it went 18-16 last season. Teams often double-teamed and face-guarded Wilcox while daring another Dawg to beat them. Still, Wilcox had 14 of his 22 career games of 20 or points last season.
This fall the Huskies, who had a string of four consecutive conference regular-season or tournament titles end last month, will welcome recently signed McDonald's High School All-American guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the returns of darting point guard Andrew Andrews outside and rugged Desmond Simmons and Shawn Kemp Jr. inside, plus the debuts of 2012-13 transfers Perris Blackwell - an all-West Coast Conference force at San Francisco two seasons ago -- and Gilles Dierickx as new big men.
"I think we have a good solid base and we have some guys who can fill some roles, so I think we can do some damage," Wilcox said.
The added weapons should make defenses far more honest against him next season, and thus Wilcox even more dangerous than he already is. They will likely reduce the 34.8 minutes per game Wilcox was forced to play this past season.
Romar believes Wilcox will be a more rested, dynamic player -- and not just a shooter -- next season.
"I think it will be, less is more," Romar said. "I think there were times C.J. was just worn out last season."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Romar announced Lamont Smith is leaving his staff to become an associate head coach at New Mexico, which just hired head coach Craig Neal. Smith spent one season at UW after previous seasons as an assistant at Arizona State. Neal and Smith will be taking over the Lobos' program in the wake of Steve Alford leaving it to coach UCLA. ... Romar said he isn't necessarily seeking an extra assistant to replace Smith. Paul Fortier, who was UW's director of player personnel last season and was limited in how much he could do as an assistant coach on the floor, moves back into his previous, full-time assistant's role with Smith leaving.