Wilson Making Strides With His Game

Matt Wilson's hard work in the off-season has cast him as the lead character in a feel good movie. The 6-foot-11 Class of 2009 big man is on the cusp of breaking through as a prospect. His journey isn't complete but it is moving along at a rapid pace after a strong summer in the gym.

The book on Matt Wilson hasn't been written. Will it be a lengthy page-turner? After this summer, it's heading in the right direction.

Wilson's story at this stage is actually pretty cool. Last year, the 6-foot-11 power forward was basically a role player for Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook. We know this because we happened to catch a few Millbrook games. Most of the time our looks at Wilson were brief.

During the season, well, Wilson's minutes were limited. Sparingly is the term he used to describe his time on the floor. "I started a few games; nothing special at all," Wilson said. His lack of playing time wasn't the coach's fault. He'd given the coach little reason to insert him into the games. To a degree the lack of court time may not have been the player's fault either. Often times it's simply a case of not being ready. In short, it wasn't Wilson's time.

With little evidence to the point, Wilson harbored the thought of playing college basketball. Frankly, if you evaluated him on his play, his approach and his ceiling, he wasn't a Division I prospect yet. "I felt I was a college player," Wilson said. "I didn't feel I was a big college player."

The Decision

Something happened from the close of the high school season to the end of the summer. First, the son of a former North Carolina State football player and NFL draft pick, made the decision to reclassify. An outstanding student, the big man felt he wasn't ready physically or mentally. He sensed a chance if he had more time. Making the decision to spend another year in school is one thing; becoming a player is a totally different story. To take the next step believing in himself was important.

"The end of the high school season I felt confident with my decision to reclassify (he also transferred to nearby Ravenscroft). It brought out the beast in me. I decided it was time to get down and work hard. I know I have potential. I came into the AAU season wanting it and I was able to get down and prove it.

"I viewed myself as confident (for the first time). People say it clicks in your head. After my high school year it just clicked."

The Helping Hand

To put the pieces together, Wilson enlisted the help of Mike Hollis, the president of NetWorks Basketball. Hollis, when he's not running various programs and camps in Raleigh, doubles as Shavlik Randolph's personal workout specialist. Now, after seeing Wilson reach out, he had a new project.

"What I saw was an opportunity for this kid to learn something important," Hollis said. "That something was that as far as the markers you look at – size, wingspan, stride, jumping – he was uncoordinated. But, if his ingredients were cake ingredients I thought we could bake a helluva cake. The stuff that's needed was there.

"God had given him the abilities. Now we had to figure out of if he had the willfulness to make it happen. He was working without any evidence that he should be."

Wilson's approach to the game changed. His belief in his own talents pushed him harder and made him hungrier when he realized gains on the court were attainable. "I worked out pretty hard (before) but I didn't really have a purpose to it. Now I work hard in the mode that I can be good but I have to stay and work hard. I take that attitude in every time."

Wilson credits Hollis with empowering him with the belief that he had the talent to make it happen. "He's a guru," Wilson said. "He saw things that I didn't see and I see them now. It's incredible. He's almost like a psychic. I see them now. It's weird."

"He believed in a process," Hollis said. "He started going to the gym, working on his footwork, his scoring options and form rebounding. So he started believing he needed to do that immediately. When you believe in the process and do all the work. Then you say, ‘If I'm going to do all this in a gym by myself, why not just do this in a game?'"

The Summer

Playing on the AAU circuit in July was a big deal for Wilson. He was front and center with coaches in the stands. More important, it was time to test and see if the strides he felt he was making in the gym were real.

As it turned out, he went from non-performer to prospect and is heading in the direction of player. All this in a span of 6 months! From the end of the high school season the former Class of 2008 kid emerged as a guy with no offers and very little interest into a kid with offers from three different programs.

The Recruitment Begins

"The very first letter I ever got was from Campbell University, the Fighting Camels," Wilson said. "The first offer was from Vermont and that was this year during the summer. It was more like ‘if you want to come here, we'd like to have you.' The first official offer was South Carolina. It's a latter and it keeps going up and up; it's fun."

And what was his feeling after the Gamecocks laid out the scholarship offer? "I was all smiles. I got it up and hung up the phone. I felt like doing jumping jacks. I sat down and later that night went to bed. I figured if I get that much better in that short of time I want to work that much harder. What if I get even better (as a player) than that? It's so cool because a year ago at this time I would never have seen myself where I am. It's been great."

Shortly after the Gamecocks offered, Clemson moved in. Apparently, Wilson's big in the Palmetto State. During the summer he tripped to both programs. "Columbia is a great place, fun, SEC country. It was also the first visit. That gave me an extra shock. Loved the facilities. The coaching staff was great too. They had a student-center with a 3-story rock wall. Then, there's football of course."

The Tigers were next on the visit slate. "Clemson contacted me about three days after South Carolina (his breakout AAU effort happened ironically in Myrtle Beach). They said they wanted to offer but Coach Purnell, he's kind of a genuine guy and said he wanted to get me in there and offer face-to-face. I went, took the tour, he sat me down towards the end and offered. It's a great feeling. I love it down there, same with South Carolina."

The Future

This fall, Wilson will lace them up at Ravenscroft as a member of the Class of 2009. The Ravens boast Ryan Kelly, another 2009 standout with ACC offers. Kevin Billerman, a former Duke player, now has his own skilled twin towers to work with.

Matt Wilson is hoping to emulate the growth of his father. His father arrived at N.C. State as a quarterback and left as a 6-8, 300 plus pound lineman. Clearly, there's a history of blooming late in the Wilson family.

"He is somebody in transition and it'll be real interesting to see what he demands out of his transition," Hollis said. "Where he's going to wind up? Only God knows and he ain't telling."

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