Wilson Bearing Down For Second State Sport

It was a genuine factor in his decision to sign with Mississippi State football, after all. Now De'Runnya Wilson is getting to enjoy the reality of two-team play. "I say all the time it's just a great experience."

It ought to be. The Bulldog wide receiver is catching another sort of passes these days, in his doubled duty as a backup forward for Mississippi State basketball. His presence probably won't amount to much in the way of personal statistics over the course of the remaining season.

But it hopefully will have a ripple-effect, particularly a frontcourt who can use the extra hand(s) this freshman football sensation brings to Rick Ray's short roster. "Coach gave me the opportunity," Wilson said. "He needed me and I tried to give it my best shot."

Ray certainly welcomes the mid-season addition of Wilson. OK, so the second-year coach would welcome aid from any source given the state of State's squad with eight scholarship Dogs available and a handful of activated walk-ons. Wilson though is a different sort of volunteer, even setting aside his primary job as a football player.

He's a 6-5, 215 pound forward with first-class athletic credentials. Never mind he's only taken two shots in his dozen on-court minutes, that's not what Wilson was brought into the roundball fold. He's a tall body who can move and doesn't mind muscling around, and on a team with just one true center and a couple of forwards this is a mid-schedule bonanza.

Within reasonable limits, Ray reminds. "Bear hasn't picked up everything yet, and it's unfair throwing him in those situations at times. But the thing that comes through is he plays so hard. He's a physical presence in there, and he isn't afraid to go get a rebound. It's only a matter of time for him."

Speaking of time… Wilson has played twice since joining the roundball roster two weeks ago; four minutes at Alabama and eight more at Ole Miss. He's still awaiting the first clock-running turn at Humphrey Coliseum and based on matchups the opportunity should come this Thursday evening against Florida. For that matter, most of his minutes in the two games came when Ray was frustrated enough with the regulars to yank the entire fivesome and run what other dressed-out bodies were left onto the floor.

Again though, this is a different sort of walk-on and Ray can foresee a larger, realer role for the receiver. "It's hard to say, it's a game-to-game situation. What we want to do is have him prepare to play when any of those guys get in foul trouble. And Bear was great, he said I'm not trying to come in here and be a star."

Wilson is a budding star in his scholarship role. As a true frosh he caught 26 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns, earning a starting job by November. Football obligations kept his occupied all fall and through Mississippi State's victory in the Liberty Bowl. After that, the kid needed at least some sort of down-time and got it.

But all along he had a hankering for the hardwood. "That's why I made my decision to come here," Wilson said. "I wanted that to be one of the reasons I came to Mississippi State, to play both sports." Which was something Coach Dan Mullen understood well; Wilson after all was Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama as a 2012-13 senior and could have signed a college grant in that sport.

In fact, all during football season roundball Dogs would ask Wilson when he was going to come out for their game. By January, his Mr. Basketball predecessor and former AAU teammate Craig Sword was pushing Wilson to get with it. In good spirit, of course. "Craig is like a brother to me, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to play." Wilson had also crossed paths with center Gavin Ware in summer basketball so the familiarity existed already.

Mullen gave the go-ahead after bowl season. "I had to meet with him anyway, and he really was OK with me to play basketball. It was just if I was going to play, to be a hard worker and not go through the motions."

This isn't any issue. Wilson does look a little raw running the court like, well, like a wide receiver more than a forward. But the old skills and styles will return soon enough. Conditioning obviously won't be a problem, in fact the double-duty of basketball practice and pre-spring strength training burns more calories than ever.

Fortunately, "I eat a lot so I think I'll keep my weight," Wilson said. And as for weights, Wilson has met his new football strength coach and already hit it off with Rick Court. "I really like him. We call him the Juice King!"

"Translating basketball to football, it's hard work. I lift with the football team, and practice with the basketball team. I just see the football coaches one time, and then the basketball coach."

That is a lot for a player of any age to give, but for a true frosh the burden would seem overwhelming. Not for Wilson. This, he says, is exactly what he wanted all along. To be able to not just suit up but play in the SEC in two sports is the ideal.

"I just figured I'd give it a shot in college. That's why I made my decision to come here, to play both sports. I worked hard and it paid off. I'm trying to help the team, to be a role player. Do the little things like rebound and wherever we need help go out and get the job done."

Which raises the question: is this it? Is there anything else Wilson could offer Mississippi State sports? He grins. "I'm really good in baseball, I can pitch and play third base!"

The MSU mind boggles.

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