Derrick Wilson, once a budding basketball star at East High, took his playing career to new heights when he made a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament last week.
The 6-foot-1 freshman guard at Marquette played a limited role in three NCAA tournament games with the Golden Eagles, but was thrilled just to see court time in the prestigious event.
"It was a great experience, it's something you dream about when you're a little kid," Wilson said. "It's not like any other game. It's March Madness."
Wilson, 20, said the electric atmosphere and excitement inherent to the tournament provided a great motivator for a return appearance. He'll likely have ample opportunity playing for the Golden Eagles, who have made the NCAA tournament in each of the last seven seasons.
Wilson is the first member of a basketball family to reach the NCAA Tournament. He was a freshman at East in 2007, when he started on varsity alongside his senior brother Damar Wilson, who graduated and went on to play Division I college basketball.
Derrick Wilson left Anchorage after his freshman season at East, finishing high school at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where he was a four-time All-New England basketball selection.
The decision to attend Hotchkiss was primarily an academic one, Wilson said, but playing basketball there gave him a chance to compete against some nationally-ranked teams and take his game to a higher level. Had he stayed at East, playing for Marquette may have been less likely.
"I think I could have, it just would have been a lot harder with the recruiting process," Wilson said.
Wilson said he is a versatile point guard with a lot of speed and strength, but when he got to Marquette he wasn't quite ready for Division I basketball.
"At first it was tough, the speed of the game," Wilson said. "Once I got used to it, I started playing better."
His acclimation was aided by Junior Cadougan, a starting junior guard for Marquette who shared a small Alaskan connection with Wilson.
Cadougan was in Alaska in 2009, helping Texas' Christian Life Academy to a title in the Alaska Airlines Classic high school basketball tournament at West High.
"One of my best friends played against him," Wilson said. "That's how we first started talking."
The two formed a friendship and Cadougan has sort of taken Wilson under his wing. Wilson, who started twice this season and averaged nine minutes per game, said he has improved and expects to earn more playing time next season.
"I'm just becoming a better overall player, being more vocal, getting ready for the next year," he said.
Wilson, a corporate communications major, still visits his parents in Anchorage. Dennis and Sheila Wilson were both competitive players in their youth and played a big role in Wilson's development as a basketball player.
"They're still involved, but it's not as intense as it used to be," Wilson said.
Nobody in Wilson's family was surprised when Marquette was invited to the NCAA tournament as the No. 3 seed in the West Region, and nobody was too fired up until Marquette notched wins over BYU and Murray State.
"When we made it to the Sweet 16 is when everyone got excited," Wilson said.
Wilson didn't know Murray State won November's Great Alaska Shootout until his brother informed him shortly before Marquette faced the Racers in the third round of the NCAAs.
After defeating Murray State 62-53, Marquette went on to lose to Florida 68-58 in the next round, but Wilson said he knows the Golden Eagles have the talent to go deeper in the tournament next season.
"Anyone can win on any given night," he said. "To be in the top 68 out of 300 some odd schools, the talent's all the same."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.