By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – Washington isn’t going to have too many more like C.J. Wilcox.
And his signature, deadly accurate outside shooting is only part of the reason.
Wilcox is a vanishing breed in this basketball era of “one and done,” when seemingly every guy owning a pair of sneakers thinking he should be in the NBA. As in, already.
Wilcox was underappreciated out of high school five years ago and realized his upside was in his future rather than his present. The son of a former player at Brigham Young that schooled him on basketball fundamentals and life skills, Wilcox came to the Huskies out of the Salt Lake City area and told them he didn’t want to star. He wanted to redshirt right away.
Five years later, Wilcox is playing his final two home games -- Thursday at 6 p.m. against UCLA (ESPN2, the Washington IMG radio network, Westwood One national radio and here on GoHuskies.com with the official game chat and free live audio) and Saturday at 1:30 p.m. versus USC. He’s the second-leading scorer in the 111-year history of Huskies basketball. He’s the leading 3-point shooter in UW history. He leads his team in blocked shots – as a 6-foot-5 guard.
He’s already graduated, teaching as an intern at Green Lake Elementary School in North Seattle most weekdays. He’s never deviated from the plan he, dad Craig (BYU 1993-95) and mother Mandy set five years ago – not even after NBA scouts and league front-office men told him last spring he could enter the draft and go as high as late in 2013’s first round.
Yet you are more likely to see the Pac-12 third-leading foul shooter at 85 percent air-ball a free throw than you are to hear him declare “Look at me!” or “I told you so!”
“I didn’t see it coming,” Wilcox said Wednesday of his success, before one of his final regular-season practices at UW. “But I guess every year I continued to get better and started seeing things as a vision, and started to attack them.
“I’m glad I was able to get it done.”
Get it done better than almost any Husky ever. He has 1,822 career points. Only Chris Welp has scored more at UW, 251 more.
What exactly is Wilcox’s legacy at Washington?
His coach calls him an “unassuming assassin” for his deadly outside shooting of signature, rainbow arcs That fits Wilcox’s humble, thoughtful personality – hardly one of a typical, lethal gunslinger.
“Golly,” Lorenzo Romar said when asked how UW should remember Wilcox. “So much stability and humility with him.
“It’s just, I don’t know how many times you are going to find this in today’s era where a kid supported totally by his family (has) no one in his ear telling him, ‘You have to do this,’ or ‘You are going to be one and done if you do that.’ (They decided) C.J. has a real upside. And that if he does things right, he can become really good and become an NBA player.
“And that started with him redshirting (the 2009-10 season). Again, that was not our idea. That came from the Wilcox camp. And they stuck with that.”
As Romar said Wednesday: “One of the best players to ever put on a Husky uniform.”
“He has done it with extreme class. He has his degree. He’s never been an issue for us, never been a problem for us. Always been low maintenance. Always comes to practice for us, always comes to games, (with) not a lot of complaining. Just does what he is supposed to do.
“He’s been really special that way.”
Wilcox could be a national phenomenon by now. That is, if he had played on a bigger college stage through UW winning more than the one Pac-12 regular-season championship and one conference tournament title, or appearing in more than the two NCAA tournaments it has accomplished with Wilcox.
Or if he had been a showy, egocentric personality. Or even a normal one befitting his prodigious production as one of the best scorers in a power conference.
Asked where he gets his refreshingly understated, even-keeled persona, Wilcox smiles.
“My dad,” he says. “He told me a while ago, ‘Just treat every game the same, be it a good game or a bad game. Treat every game the same. Don’t get too high or don’t get too low.’
“You can apply that to a game when you miss a couple shots, just stay the same as if you had made a couple. I think that, throughout my career, has helped me maintain that.”
He can – and does – apply that to life, too.
“I try not to let things get to me,” he said. “Just try not to react and just stay as even-keeled as possible.”
That’s not all Dad has given him.
Craig Wilcox, a veteran in the computer industry, now lives in San Diego with his wife Mandy; they moved after C.J. went to college. He began teaching C.J. shooting fundamentals when the younger Wilcox was in fifth grade. Then convinced him to wait on committing to hometown Utah midway through high school until he could attract other options.
C.J. grew up playing summer games at Utah's Huntsman Center. He watched Keith Van Horn score from everywhere to lead the Utes to the 1998 national-championship game against Kentucky. Wilcox started for the varsity beginning in ninth grade at Pleasant Grove High south of Salt Lake City, in a suburb of the same name that is closer to BYU's campus, just 10 minutes from Provo.
Utah offered him a scholarship when he was just a sophomore.
"I was focused on the University of Utah," Wilcox said. "I figured I would go there."
And why not? He had free college waiting for him close to his dad and to his mother Mandy, who was a nurse treating cancer patients in Utah.
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 that junior season at Pleasant Grove.
That's where the Huskies found him. Then-UW assistant coach Jim Shaw saw him shooting those rainbows in the 2008 Kingwood Classic in Houston against a team from Compton, Calif., Romar's hometown.
Shaw, who this year became an assistant at Saint Mary’s, watched more of Wilcox's AAU games that week in Houston, to make sure the splash wasn't just the kid's lucky day. It wasn't. Wilcox kept draining jumpers all the way back to Salt Lake. Shaw convinced Romar to check out this tall shooter who came off screens, turned and shot accurately and with uncanny balance from 20 feet.
That was a decent tip, eh?
Romar asked him to visit Washington late in the recruiting process, and when Wilcox did he said he "loved it."
Wilcox reminded Romar, an NBA guard in the 1980s, of one of this era's best deep shooters.
"His dad did a phenomenal job," Romar said. "I mean, that's Ray Allen-type stuff the way he shoots the ball, the way he's always on balance."
So as he fires away Thursday night against UCLA and again Saturday afternoon against USC trying to improve the Huskies’ seeding next week’s Pac-12 tournament that holds as its prize an automatic NCAA tournament berth, Wilcox says he won’t get caught up in nostalgia of leaving the school he entered five years ago as a skinny teenager from Utah. With his own plans, carried out on schedule.
That doesn’t mean he won’t miss UW as he plays his final Husky games. What will he remember most as he prepares for this spring’s NBA scouting combine, this summer’s draft – and the new, NBA life for which he and his parents have planned for the majority of Wilcox’s years.
“Just being around this group of guys. Just the fans. Just being in Seattle. Because I don’t know how often I’m going to get back here,” the second-best scorer the Huskies have ever had said.
“So I’m just trying to soak it all in while I can, before I have to take off.”