He paid his dues for two years as a reserve and now Derrick Wilson of Anchorage has put himself in position to start at point guard for Marquette University.
He will still take nothing for granted.
Wilson, the East High graduaate, plans to bring the same defense-minded, military-disciplined approach to the basketball court, regardless if he’s in the first five or the first one off the bench.
“It’s a good feeling to know you’re a starter, but at the same time it’s a team effort and you can’t rely on one man,” he told me. “It doesn’t matter if you’re starting or not. You have to do what you have to do to help your team win and that’s what we do and that’s what great teams do.”
His team-first, me-second mentality is no act. The 21-year-old is as genuine as he is good.
Wilson was back in Alaska this week to visit family and friends while waiting for school to start. He is a TV star of sorts with Marquette games on the tube virtually every week, but he’s grateful that Alaskans don’t treat him like a celebrity. He’s still just Derrick.
“Everything is pretty much the same,” said Wilson, who left home after his freshman year of high school for The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. “I think people look at me somewhat different because they see us on national television, but for the most part we’re just hanging out.”
It’s a nice break from his intense hoops life at Marquette, where he faces some of the best players in the country on a nightly basis, even in practice and pickup games.
“People are always trying to get that starter’s spot. You are in a position they’d like to be in,” Wilson said. “It’s nothing personal. Basketball is a competitive sport; it’s how you win, with that competitive nature. Competition makes you better, which is a good thing. If you believe in yourself you’ll be fine.”
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior has been a fixture for Marquette coach Buzz Williams during his two-year career. He is often asked to defend the other team’s top ballhandler, and for good reason; Wilson’s strength and speed allow him to shadow, deny and react better than most players his size.
He’s not a scorer, but more of an enforcer, defending his team’s rim at all costs.
“You have to condition yourself to want to stop that other player. You don’t ever want anybody to score on you,” Wilson said. “You have to take pride in that. I do take it personal and that’s why I play so hard on defense.”
In 68 games, Wilson has collected career totals of 70 rebounds, 60 points and 44 steals. However, his decision making has been to be his greatest statistic. Just look at his gaudy 81-28 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In the Big East, mind you.
“I can’t force it,” Wilson said. “I have to let it come in the flow of the game.”
Wilson is the only Alaskan to play men’s basketball in the Big East. “Wow, I went from playing in the YMCA league to East High School to Marquette,” he said. “It’s been a long journey. Coming from Alaska, it’s been hard to do and not many people have done it.”
Van Williams, a 20-year local sports writer and the former sports editor of the Anchorage Daily News, writes about the athletic exploits of Alaskans for the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.