C.J. Wilcox had to wait longer than most for this opportunity.
First, he sat, redshirting his freshman basketball season at the University of Washington as the Huskies played their way to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 2010.
Then he contributed, mostly as a 3-point specialist off the bench, playing a supporting role on UW’s NCAA tournament team in 2011.
He was the Huskies’ No. 3 scoring option in 2012. Then he was their leading scorer in 2013 and 2014 after choosing to return for his fifth and final season — a move he says now was mostly necessitated by offseason foot surgery. He eventually wound up as the school’s No. 2 career scoring leader while breaking career and single-season records for made 3-pointers.
So when Wilcox, a 6-foot-5 guard, gathers with family and friends in San Diego on Thursday to watch the 2014 NBA draft, it will be the culmination of a life spent dedicated to basketball – and a half-decade spent at UW.
His time as a Husky, Wilcox said during a Wednesday phone interview, was “a long, learning experience. I was in a lot of different situations from redshirting to coming off the bench, playing here and there minutes, to kind of being the go-to guy.
“In the NBA, whether you’re starting, get sent to the D-league (developmental league) — college helped me handle those kind of situations.”
Wilcox, who will turn 24 in December, isn’t sure when his name will be called, although draft pundits and projections peg him as a late-first-round to early-second-round prospect.
NBADraft.net is slotting Wilcox at the No. 23 spot to the Utah Jazz, a location that would be less than an hour from his hometown of Pleasant Grove (though his family has since relocated to San Diego).
The even-keeled Wilcox doesn’t seem much for speculation, though his assessment of his potential draft position seems in line with most analysts.
“It’s been all over the place, but I’ve been getting serious looks in the mid-20s, three or four looks in the second round,” he said. “My range I would say is about 23-38, as far as what teams are looking at me.”
One thing holding him back, he said, might be his age. There aren’t many fifth-year seniors selected in the draft anymore, mostly because players talented enough to play in the NBA don’t tend to stick around the college game that long.
But that’s how it worked out for Wilcox, who made the decision to redshirt as a freshman and had to wait his turn to prove himself worthy of being drafted.
And that’s something that might have happened in 2013 if not for a stress fracture in his left foot that kept him from practicing throughout much of the 2012-13 season and eventually required offseason surgery.
As a result, Wilcox returned to UW for his senior season. He led the team with 18.3 points a game and was named second-team all-Pac-12 Conference, but the Huskies finished with a 17-15 record and missed the postseason.
Wilcox isn’t sure if his final year at UW helped his stock or hurt it.
“I know a lot of organizations look down on age and see you don’t have as much upside as some of the younger guys, but I had to get surgery last year. That needed to be done,” Wilcox said. “I was probably going to come out last year, but the foot got in the way.
“I definitely came back more confident, and I think that helped my play a little bit. … I felt like I was able to get through a season without having injuries, and that was a big part of it. (But) I definitely know the age affects your stock. That’s the biggest knock on me right now is age.”
Wilcox worked out for 16 NBA teams, he said, in addition to attending the NBA combine in Chicago, and he spent four weeks working out with former UCLA star Don MacLean in Agoura Hills, California, outside of Los Angeles.
His goal during team workouts was not only to show off his shooting ability – “that’s what got me to this point,” he says – but also to prove he can do more with the ball in his hands than he was able to show during his college career.
“I always played with a ball-dominant point guard at UW, so (teams) didn’t get to see as much as they would have liked,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox is one of at least six or seven Pac-12 players who are likely to be selected, though that number could end up higher. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, along with former UCLA players Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Bothell native Zach LaVine are all projected as first-round picks.
Colorado guard Spencer Dinwiddie is mostly viewed as an early-second-round prospect. Arizona guard Nick Johnson could land somewhere in the second round, too. And some mock drafts also include Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski and guard Jahii Carson, and Stanford forwards Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis.
Andrew Wiggins, the 6-foot-8 forward who played his freshman season at Kansas, is expected by many to be selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Duke guard Jabari Parker and Kansas center Joel Embiid are also in that conversation.