Omar Wilkes Story: Part 2

Flashback: Wilkes makes his decision and looks towards the future.

This is part two of an article that was first published in the 2002 October edition of The Loyalist, Loyola High School's student newspaper. Kevin Wittner is currently a junior at Loyola High School. Serving as the school's Sports Information Director, he manages the school's athletic's website,, and covers sports for the student newspaper. He also works as the statistician for the Varsity Football, Basketball, and Baseball teams at Loyola. In his free time, Kevin umpires baseball and officiates basketball in the Los Angeles area.

Influences/Decision Time

Once the coaches had offered the scholarships, hosted him on recruiting trips, and made their home visits, they could only wait for Omar's decision. The problem was, he hadn't decided.

"I had it in my heart [to commit to Kansas], but I didn't actually know until the day before," admitted Wilkes.

"When I visited UCLA, I really enjoyed myself there and became comfortable with the people. Same with Cal. I was deadlocked for a while, but I had to go with my heart."

Even the day before his press conference, Wilkes had plenty of reasons why each school, Kansas, UCLA, and Cal, was a place that could have been the right fit for him.

"Kansas has a basketball tradition like no other, top five every year perennially. Cal has a great academic reputation, considering that they are one of the top public universities in the country. Along with a great coaching staff, they have an up and coming basketball team with the number one recruiting class in the nation for 2003," said Wilkes.

"UCLA-- they're the home school. My father went there, and my sister goes there now. Their whole sell is that I was born to go there, and it is destiny for me to go there. I think twice about staying home and playing in front of family, friends for a great overall program."

Coach Williamson played an important role.

"I tried to be a sounding board for Omar, to keep his facts straight from the different colleges and the information each school was giving. I tried not to influence him one way or the other, just trying to keep the information straight so that he could look at the pros and cons of each school and make a decision for himself," said Williamson.

"All three schools are tremendous academic and athletic schools, so he was fortunate to have a great choice of schools to choose from," added Williamson.

"I think what it came down to was the relationship he set with Coach Williams and the staff that separated Kansas from the other schools. All the schools presented great basketball teams and great academics, but it just came down to the relationship he had with the players and the coaches when he went on the recruiting trip."

Mrs. Wilkes noted Omar's strenuous deliberation with himself before announcing his decision.

"I was very pleased about he thought about his decision carefully and weighed each school against the other. He put all things on paper and checked them off as to each category and which one worked best for him," said Mrs. Wilkes.

"He handled it all very maturely, and I am very proud of his decision and how he made it."

Many schools thought that Mr. Wilkes's connection with UCLA would influence the father to influence his son.

"A lot of schools were eager, thinking that I would have influence on his decision," said Mr. Wilkes. "They all knew my connection, my ties, and loyalties to UCLA."

"Our parents were very laid back," noted younger brother Jordan. "They let him experience it all by himself."

Omar agreed with his brother that his parents put no pressure on his decision at all. "They were great through this whole process, never pressuring me. They played it like poker. Every school they said good things about and left the decision up to me. My dad told me to follow my heart and make my own decision. He didn't pressure me to go anywhere; I couldn't ask for better parents."

Decision Day/ Press Conference

Finally, the day was here, October 2. The Wilkes arranged a press conference at Loyola scheduled to begin at 2:45 PM.

Chris O'Donnell, Loyola's Athletic Director, could not recall a previous time that an athlete held a press conference on campus to announce his college intentions. Two of Loyola's highest-touted athletes, basketball guard Toby Bailey and football star Matt Ware, had both announced their intentions to play at UCLA before their senior year.

Omar said he received the idea of announcing his college intentions through a reporter.

"I was talking to a reporter from a publication one day, and he brought up the idea [of the press conference]. He said there would be a public interest, and people would like to know where I was going. It would be nice to do it like that, make it official, and end the speculation. There was a lot of speculation with people saying I was going to UCLA, saying I was going to Stanford, or going to Kansas. I wanted to have that to end speculation, give a definite answer, and have fun with it."

The most amazing part of the speculation, primarily on the Internet, is that none of it came from Omar's mouth. He kept the secret so quiet that he did not tell his parents his intentions until less than a week prior his public announcement. In fact, Omar didn't even plan on telling his brother Jordan or his older sister Sabreen.

"He was very secretive about his decision, and he wanted [the family] to wait until the press conference," said Jordan. "I only heard by eavesdropping when he was talking to my dad in the other room."

After the announcement at the press conference, a reporter noted that not only Mr. Jamaal Wilkes attended UCLA, but also Sabreen, who is currently enrolled at Westwood. Omar responded, "Can someone call her and let her know where I'm going, because she doesn't know?"

Once the press conference started, Omar saw that more than just a few family members were in attendance.

"When I got there, I was nervous because I didn't expect anybody to be there. When there were news cameras and people, I was like, ‘Whoa.'"

Among those in attendance were reporters and cameras from NBC, KCAL, Fox Sports Net, Student Sports Magazine, a conference call to an Internet web site and a live feed to ESPN Radio 1320 KLWN, in Lawrence, Kansas.

As soon as Omar gained control of the room, he calmed down.

"Once I started talking, I was comfortable and happy to announce my decision." Not only was Omar happy with his decision, but so were the people of Lawrence, Kansas. College basketball is such a large part of the state's culture that Brian Hanni, Sports Director of ESPN Radio 1320 KLWN, bumped the voice of the Kansas City Chiefs from his scheduled show later that afternoon to cover the press conference live over the air.

"There's been a huge buzz around Jayhawk Country the past few months hoping that Omar would choose KU," said Hanni.

"The 'Hawks have gotten some great package deals in the past like Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Miles and Michael Lee, and now with Omar and David Padgett coming in together -- this could be the best tandem yet!"

Hanni's co-host was former Jayhawk basketball player Brett Ballard, As current co-host of Rock Chalk Sports Talk, Ballard said on the air over Omar's decision, "There's going to be a lot of happy Jayhawk fans tonight What a great day to be a Jayhawk!"

The Future

Omar still has his senior year to complete at Loyola, and so much to look forward to in the next four years for what awaits him in Kansas. Omar shared some of his thoughts on why he decided to go to Lawrence.

"Kansas has one of the best basketball traditions in history. They have one of the most storied programs, right up there with the North Carolinas, Kentuckys, and UCLAs. Coach Williams is, in my opinion, the greatest coach in college basketball right now, along with Coach K of Duke and Bobby Knight.

"When I took my trip there - thank you to all the people of Lawrence for being great. I enjoyed everyone I met out there," said Omar.

"I hope they're ready for me in the fall of 2003." Top Stories