C. J. Wilcox is a quiet dude. He doesn't speak as much as he slips in thoughts at unexpected times. You never know what's going on inside of his head.
TEMPE, Ariz. — C.J. Wilcox is a quiet dude. He doesn’t speak as much as he slips in thoughts at unexpected times.
You never know what’s going on inside of his head. You’re left to judge him solely on the purity of his jump shot, and when that beautiful stroke is acting right, you can’t say much other than “wow,” either.
So it goes without saying that, on Thursday night, Wilcox and everyone in his orbit were mutually speechless.
The Washington guard was that good. And his role in the Huskies’ 79-62 victory over Arizona State at Wells Fargo Arena was even more vital than his brilliant stat line indicated.
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Wilcox impressed with 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. He made four three-pointers, which is his specialty, but he proved to be more than a shooter on this night. His efforts rescued the Huskies early in the game when the team was reeling from foul trouble and from a knee injury that knocked starting shooting guard Scott Suggs out of the game after just three minutes of play.
The rough start turned out to be just a mild concern. There was no need to worry because Wilcox went to work. He scored eight of his points during a 16-4 run that turned a 15-7 deficit into a 23-19 lead. The Huskies wound up stretching that first-half spurt to 31-13 and went into halftime with a double-digit lead even though three starters played limited minutes.
This is why the Huskies were so highly regarded before they went splat a few weeks ago. They’re deep in an odd way. They have only nine scholarship players available right now, and that number dropped to eight without Suggs, but this team isn’t lacking for talent. Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Holiday are clearly their best three players, but there’s little slippage in players four through nine. Now that their role players are emerging from slumps, this is especially evident.
Venoy Overton is back to being a difference maker. Terrence Ross is playing a better all-around game. Darnell Gant continues to do whatever is asked of him. Aziz N’Diaye is a factor again.
And then there’s Wilcox, a redshirt freshman who seemingly fell down a well when the Pac-10 season began. It started with a bad fall on his right hip in late December, which caused a nasty infection, and the injury bothered him for weeks. In late January, he suffered a concussion. And then the purest shooter on the team, a player that coach Lorenzo Romar trusted to take clutch shots early in the season, lost his confidence. With no collegiate experience handling such adversity, you wondered if he would regain his swagger this season.
In the first 11 Pac-10 games, Wilcox missed two games because of his ailments, and in the other nine, he scored just 22 total points. He missed 17 of 21 three-pointers during that span. His picturesque jumper, flawless in its form, became a contradiction. It still looked great, but it kept clanking off the rim.
All of a sudden, the Huskies had lost one of their best weapons. It was hard to tell what was affecting Wilcox more: his injuries, his inexperience or his mental approach. Naturally, he tried to hide his frustration.
“C.J. has an interesting temperament,” Romar says. “He doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Looking back now, Wilcox admits to a confidence hit.
“Yeah, everyone is telling you that you’re a great shooter, and you’re wondering why you’re not making any shots,” he says. “You start to doubt yourself.”
He responded by working even harder. Wilcox goes through extra shooting drills with assistant coach Jim Shaw before every practice now. Slowly, he started to rediscover his form, and the players noticed it in practice.
Over the last three games, Wilcox has been, as Romar says, “a better C.J. No, a normal C.J.” He has scored in double figures in each of those games and averaged 13.3 points in victories over California, Stanford and Arizona State. He has made 10 of 23 three-pointers, a normal 43.5 percent.
Now, when he shoots, the entire bench, coaches included, anticipate his jumpers falling. Normalcy comes with a swish.
“He’s an unbelievable weapon on the basketball floor, and when that weapon is going good, you’ve got to keep it loaded,” Romar says. “He can rattle off six or seven of those things.”
Just as important, though, is that Wilcox can endure a slump.
“Mentally, I’m stronger,” Wilcox says. “My confidence dropped down. I got pretty low. But going through this has made me a better person and player.”
There he goes, slipping in insight just when you think he’s too shy. The reticent freshman is back to being a standout shooter, and his resurgence comes at the perfect time. But there’s no need to talk too much about it.
Normalcy is understated.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer