Wilcox Comes Full Circle in Returning to Utah
Jan. 6, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SALT LAKE CITY - C.J. Wilcox's family was up from Salt Lake City, sitting behind the Huskies' bench in Boulder.
Throughout Washington's loss at Colorado Thursday, the sophomore guard's 3-year-old brother Tyson was mimicking his father. The little man was yelling to his big brother and his teammates "Keep your heads up!"
Wilcox's is as high as the mountains UW has been traveling through this week.
He is the life of the Huskies' traveling party that entered the Jon M. Huntsman Center Friday to practice for Saturday's 11 a.m. game between uneven Washington (8-6, 2-1 Pac-12) and Utah (4-10, 1-1). It's on ROOT Sports television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the internet's only live play by play chat and analysis.
When the Pac-10 added the Utes and Colorado last summer, the sharpshooter's laugh carried all the way back to his hometown by the Great Salt Lake.
"It's funny how things work out, that I'd be playing Utah," Wilcox said. "I thought I'd never have anything to do with them again.
He looked around the deep-bowl arena in which he's played since he was a teen in summer camps and said after Friday's practice, "It will be weird."
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar sometimes tries to schedule homecoming games for his seniors; Missouri native Scott Suggs was on the Huskies' bench redshirting after a broken foot in November when Washington played at Saint Louis.
This time the conference did the work for Romar with Wilcox, and three years early. It is the Huskies' first game here since March 14, 1985, a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
"I got all of my teammates' tickets. I have 36 tickets from them," Wilcox said, adding he is hosting at least 45 pals in all on Saturday.
What did he have to barter to get all the extra seats for his Salt Lake friends?
"I didn't have to do anything," he said. "No one has family here, so it was easy."
Wilcox is the Pac-12's leading 3-point shooter at 2.8 makes per game. He is fifth in the conference in scoring average at 15.6 points per contest. He was the Pac-12's first player of the week in November after averaging more than 19 points during Washington's three wins in the World Vision Classic.
He is coming off a career high-tying night on New Year's Eve against Oregon and scored 19 points Thursday at Colorado.
And he isn't even starting.
This will be the fourth consecutive game Wilcox will begin on the bench. He has willfully made room for the new lineup of freshman Tony Wroten and fellow guards Abdul Gaddy and Terrence Ross joining inside forces Aziz N'Diaye and Darnell Gant.
"He's just so versatile," Romar said of Wilcox. "And on top of that, he is pretty selfless."
Yes, instead of sulking, Wilcox has shined. He had 15 points in the first game of the new arrangement, last week against Oregon State. Then he tied his career high with 24 points off the bench against Oregon. His 19 at Colorado Thursday came even though he missed seven of eight shots in the middle minutes of the game as UW lost its early, nine-point lead.
It's not like Wilcox's minutes have gone down just because he is not starting. The only real difference has been he isn't getting his name introduced before games - something that might disappoint the friends and high school teammates he is hosting here Saturday.
"With this (lineup), I think it gets the defense more sucked in, because Abdul and Tony are always driving," Wilcox said. "It gets Terrence and me better looks."
Wilcox played 30 minutes against the Beavers, 33 against the Ducks and 30 against the Buffaloes. That's on par with his season average of 31.5 minutes per game he built from starting the first 11 games.
"It doesn't matter who starts - we all play a lot of minutes," Wilcox said.
"I just come off the bench ready to shoot."
Wilcox wasn't born that way. It only seems like it.
His dad Craig was a former basketball player at Brigham Young in the early 1990s who is now commuting between Salt Lake and San Diego while working in the computer industry. He began teaching C.J. shooting fundamentals when he was in fifth grade, then convinced Wilcox to wait on committing to Utah midway through high school until he could attract other options.
C.J. grew up playing summer games at Utah's Huntsman Center and watching Keith Van Horne score from everywhere to lead the Utes to the 1998 national championship game against Kentucky. He 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 actually 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 says. "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 is a nurse treating cancer patients.
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. UW assistant coach Jim Shaw saw him shooting rainbows in the 2008 Kingwood Classic in Houston against a team from Compton, Calif., Romar's hometown.
Shaw 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. Romar asked him to visit late Washington 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 of his teachings. "I mean, that's Ray Allen-type stuff the way he shoots the ball, the way he's always on balance."
So it figures that Wilcox remains balanced in his new role off the bench.
Thriving in it again on Saturday would end his homecoming trip -- not to mention Washington's weekend - in a far better way than it began.
QUICK SHOTS: A piece of perspective on this still-young season: For all the understandable angst over the loss at conference newcomer Colorado, a win by the Huskies Saturday will leave Washington 3-1 in the league and among the leaders in the anything-goes Pac-12. ... Wroten is third among all freshmen in the country averaging 17.1 points. And he continues to get to the line an extraordinary amount of times. But the Huskies need to get more out of the freshman guard and leading scorer's many free chances. Wroten has taken 97 free throws in 14 games -- one-third of the entire team's total. He has made 50 of those, to leave him at 51.5% from the line for the season. He was 3 for 8 while scoring 21 points at Colorado Thursday. Gaddy has shot the second-most free throws on the team -- 33. Wilcox is a 93-percent foul shooter, yet has been to the line just 29 times this season. ... The Huskies are 0-5 away from Seattle. Romar says the keys to winning Saturday - and the rest of the season on the road -- are: better ball movement and longer possessions to make defenses work harder; better rebounding; and more energy to match the home team's. ... Wroten's seven steals at Colorado were the second most in team history, behind Jason Hamilton's nine in 1996. Wroten tied Oregon State's Jared Cunningham for most swipes by a Pac-12 player in a game this season. ... This is the Huskies' first game against Utah in Salt Lake City since Dec. 19, 1970, an 89-78 loss to the Utes in the Utah Classic.