When I first saw Jordan Wilkes, it was two years ago almost to the day. In April 2002 I saw a rail thin kid who was the definition of 'adolescent awkward' as he adjusted to his new body. The then-freshman had just exploded through a growth spurt that his mind and muscles could not possibly accomodate. He played barely more minutes than I did at that Pump 'N Run Easter event, though it was clear he had far more upside than I did...
Fast forward two years, and Wilkes is being hailed by several services as one of the top 50 or 60 players in the country in this 2005 class. He stands 6'11" and 205 pounds, which still gives him the appearance of a praying mantis, but he has made meteoric strides in the last 8-12 months. As recently as last summer he had knee problems and coordination difficulties that made basketball an arduous task. But his junior season this past winter at Loyola High School in Los Angeles served as breakout for the frontcourt prospect. He averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks and played the best basketball of his life - by far.
"I think I've really come a long way since last year," the rising SoCal star describes. "I have the ability to move better and not have knee problems so much. Just the fact that I didn't have an injury-plagued season meant a lot."
Greg Hicks of TheInsidersHoops has been similarly enthused with the leap forward that the youngster has taken, and gives us his evaluation of the Los Angeles post player after watching him at Loyola and then again in Las Vegas this month on the AAU circuit:
"Jordan has made remarkable progress in the last year," the PrepWestHoops analyst opines. "I wasn't sure he would even be a mid major prospect a year ago and now I think he's a legitimate high major prospect. If he continues at the same rate of improvement, he could be a very interesting player in a couple years."
"He still could probably use a redshirt year, but he's got good skills and a nice understanding for the game," Hicks continues. "Good touch to about 15-17 feet. He still needs to get stronger, and more aggressive, but you can see his confidence has increased dramatically. Moves much better now; before he had a hard time running up and down the court. He's just grown into his body - more fluid and not quite so mechanical. His increased mobility has made him a much bigger factor defensively - may not block a lot of shots, but challenges a higher percentage."
Wilkes has made the low post his bread and butter, with a nice array of back-to-the-basket moves, but he is now putting a premium on his high post play. That's why Hicks and college coaches are seeing those perimeter jumpers. With his size, he is nominally a center, but Wilkes is playing with super sophomore (2006 class) big man Alex Stepheson. The two post players are interchangable on the Pump 'N Run team in the offense, which means that Wilkes can take on the role of a forward as well as a center. He says that's precisely how he likes to play.
"To be honest, I feel comfortable both places," Wilkes declares.
There might be some debate as to whether this 2005 prospect will project as a 'four' or 'five' man at the college level, and the possibility that he might still be growing further complicates matters, but college coaches seem unbothered by this academic debate. They see a high-major talent and are recruiting him accordingly. Right now he says that UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Arizona and Gonzaga are all showing strong interest, and he is equally open to each of those options.
One obvious theme that runs through that list is a West Coast geography - this is no accident. His older brother, Omar Wilkes, also came out of Loyola High School in the 2003 class and enjoyed a national recruitment. The elder Wilkes ultimately chose to go away from home to Kansas, shunning Pac-10 suitors that included UCLA, Stanford and Cal. But Omar found his first year (2003-04) displeasing and has already been granted his release to transfer closer to home. That lesson is not lost on the younger brother.
"There is no question I pay attention to what happened with Omar," Jordan says. "I do want to stay out West, but if a school comes along that seems like a great option, I'll consider them."
Geography is a player in this decision matrix, though Wilkes says that where he resides up and down the West Coast is of little import. What else, then, ranks atop his criteria list for a college choice?
"Number one is how I relate to the team and coaches - that personal feel and fit," the thoughtful recruit relates. "I also want really strong academics."
Missing from that brief list was any mention of the usual basketball factors you hear from so many recruits these days - namely playing style and available playing time. Are those big on Wilkes' mind right now?
"Not really," he calmly dismisses. "Those aren't the most important things I'm looking at."
This is one recruit who has a very calm and cool head about this crazy recruiting business, and perhaps that comes from the experiences and advice available in his own family. Father Jamaal (Keith) Wilkes was a UCLA and NBA standout, while brother Omar just went through the recruiting wars a couple years ago. Those latter experiences were particularly educational to the younger brother.
"I learned it could be very overwhelming at times, but I look at it as a blessing," says the 2005 C/PF about a whirlwind recruitment. "You cannot take it all on by yourself, though. You have to rest on those close to you for help."
His father and brother will be able to dole out plenty of advice, but there is one more wrinkle in this recruitment to consider. Now that Omar has obtained his release and will transfer out of Kansas, most of these same schools recruiting Jordan would also like to throw their hat into Round 2 of the Omar sweeptakes. Though they are two years apart, both brothers are thus simultaneously being recruited this spring. That of course elicits speculation about the Wilkes boys as a "package deal." I had no choice but to ask the junior about the viability of such a rumor.
"We've talked about it," the younger Wilkes admits. "But I'm not just going to follow [Omar]. It could happen or it may not."
The follow-up question had to ask if the two brothers have talked about Stanford as one place they could both end up.
"Stanford has come up when we've talked," the Loyola junior cryptically comments.
The Card should be a topic of conversation in the Wilkes household these days. In addition to having several family members in the Bay Area, many of which are Stanford alums, Mike Montgomery is the only coach who has come by to visit the 6'11" junior during this April visit period. The Cardinal head coach made the trip to the Los Angeles school early ths month and sat down with the top center prospect.
"It was a nice visit," Wilkes describes. "It was pretty much what I expected from him - honest and up-front. He talked about the program and the school, and I enjoyed what he had to say."
No offers have yet to hit for the rising big man talent, and he has no official visits set. With the "potential" label still firmly attached to him while he grows into his body and gains agility and strength, Wilkes is in no hurry to conclude his recruitment. He very politically and carefully denies any leaders, leaving himself open to all comers. His play the remainder of this spring and summer will speak for itself, and the recruiting attention will only intensify.
One particular area of focus for coaches is Wilkes' strength and size, with his weight only recently moving past 200 pounds. But he is just as patient with his physical development as he is with his recruitment.
"I'm still young," the wise Wilkes declares. "I'm not going to force it too much. I'm working out, but I don't expect too much."
The standout student-athlete carries a 3.6 GPA at Loyola High School and will take the SAT on May 1. He has taken the PSAT but does not recall his score. Wilkes says he is shooting for a 1200 to 1350 on the SAT.
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