DECKER: Wilmont Has Left Last-ing Impression

Earl Calloway, Errek Suhr and Rod Wilmont will say their farewells to Hoosier fans Saturday night, and it's Wilmont who deserves to be the evening's featured attraction...

Bloomington, Ind. – In two days, Roderick Wilmont will bid adieu to IU fans and Assembly Hall after the regular season finale against Penn State.

And if all is right in the Hoosier basketball world, the Hoosiers will handle the Lions to close a perfect season at Assembly Hall, they'll wrap up the No. 3 seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament…and Rod Wilmont will be the final player to step up to the microphone to thank IU fans for five years of fun.

That's a spot on Senior Night's grand stage that's been reserved for some of the all-time greats in IU basketball history, ranging from Quinn Buckner to Calbert Cheaney to Damon Bailey. Wilmont, meanwhile, shouldn't add his name to that list for only alphabetical reasons. Instead, with all due respect to fellow seniors Errek Suhr and Earl Calloway, Wilmont's earned that right.

While Calloway has garnered the label as the team's most important player according to Coach Kelvin Sampson and Suhr has the hometown Hoosier thing working for him, Wilmont has a few things working in his favor as well.

Most notably, heart and perseverance.

After all, this is the same Rod Wilmont who two or three years ago wasn't drawing oohs and ahhs from the Hoosier faithful when he entered the game. Instead, his propensity to launch – and more often than not miss - shots from anywhere and everywhere on the court produced more moans and groans than anything else.

Wilmont's debut season four years ago featured 25.8 percent shooting from the floor, and he entered his senior season knocking down only 32.1 percent of his attempts from behind the 3-point arc. More troubling than the likelihood of Wilmont to miss was his unwillingness to be phased by a hand in his face or his location 25 feet from the bucket.

It didn't matter if he'd missed his last six or if IU was better suited to run some clock. There's never been a shot Wilmont didn't like, nor one he didn't think he could make.

But over the course of the last five years, Hoosier fans have developed an affinity for the big-smiling, always-hustling Miramar, Fla., native.

His defining moment likely came in the semifinals of last year's Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State. After bringing Indiana back from an early deficit against the top-seeded Buckeyes with a 16-point, five-rebound effort, his last-second, potential game-winning leaner in the lane bounced harmlessly off the rim to send Ohio State to the Big Ten Tournament title game.

As the Buckeyes celebrated their 52-51 win, Wilmont slumped to the Conseco Fieldhouse floor and put all of his heartbreak out there for some 20,000 on-lookers to see. He wept for minutes on end, and was ultimately consoled by teammates as well as his Buckeye opponents.

For those who witnessed Wilmont's display, it was as if a game had never meant more to any player who has ever put on an IU uniform.

Fast forward to this year, and the fifth-year senior has tackled the challenge of playing for a new coach with new demands in a new system. He's been the most willing of students according to Sampson, who says he can scream and holler all he wants at Wilmont in practice to get his point across. As is the case when his shot isn't falling, Wilmont isn't phased, instead taking it all in and trying to do whatever it is that his head coach demands.

The results have been obvious. Wilmont has emerged as the team's second-leading scorer (12.5) and rebounder (5.8) and he's shooting 41 percent from behind the 3-point arc. He's nearly single-handedly carried IU to a couple of victories this season, including Wednesday night when he knocked down a school-record nine 3-pointers on his way to a 31 points in IU's 69-65 win at Northwestern.

Sampson and Hoosier fans have certainly cherished those big moments like last night, but they've also come to appreciate his effort, tenacity, and most importantly, his heart, even when the shots haven't fallen.

And that's why Wilmont should be the last man to the microphone stand Saturday night.


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