Standing in the recreation center next to the Utah high school where he starred, C.J. Wilcox’s message to the 150 or so young basketball campers was simple.
“Work hard,” he said, “and anything is possible.”
The former Washington basketball standout stared at their faces and remembered he had been in their place 10, 15 years ago. He had been a young boy who dreamed about playing in the NBA. He also had a father committed to helping him achieve his goals.
And that’s when it began — with 5 a.m. workouts.
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“We started doing that in seventh grade,” Wilcox said. “I definitely wasn’t excited to do it, but my dad dragged me out of bed. We’d get up at 5 a.m. and go shoot. It became a routine to where it’s what I do now. You begin to understand that it’s part of the process, and without it you’re not going to get what you want.
“My dad wanted to teach me the importance of hard work, whether it was basketball or any other thing in life. He told me back then, ‘I think you have a good chance of playing in the NBA and getting your dream. If you want to do it, then this is what we have to do. It’s not going to come easy.’ It was that moment — in seventh grade — that he left it up to me whether it was basketball, or whatever it was going to be. I made the decision this is what I want to do.”
The future is seemingly bright for the 6-foot-5 guard with the flawless jump shot. He’s projected as a late first-round or early second-round choice in the NBA draft Thursday, but he’s trying not to think about that.
Wilcox has been focusing on staying in the moment, but after a disappointing loss to Utah in the Pac-12 tournament opener in March, he took two weeks to rest and reflect.
“I definitely wish I’d gotten a little more out of my college career, and by that I mean playing in more NCAA tournaments,” said Wilcox, who was a reserve on UW’s last NCAA tournament team in 2011. Wilcox led the Huskies to National Invitation Tournaments appearances in 2012 and 2013. “Yeah, it’s a team sport, but I guess that’s one of the things I wish I could change.”
Wilcox spent five weeks this spring with basketball trainer Joe Abunassar before participating in the May 14-16 NBA combine. Since then, he’s crisscrossed the country while working out for 16 teams.
At each stop, the NBA people have been pleasantly surprised with his measurements — especially an impressive 6-9¾ wingspan — and athleticism. He recorded a 37½-inch vertical leap at the combine, which tied former UW teammate Terrence Ross, who won the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk contest.
But mostly, the talent evaluators wanted to see Wilcox shoot.
“When they say, ‘We’re going to run you through some shooting drills,’ that’s when my eyes light up because I know that’s when I can separate myself,” said Wilcox, who turns 24 on Dec. 30. “I’m always excited to do those because I’m usually the best shooter in the workout, but you still have to show it.”
NBAdraft.net projects Utah will select Wilcox with the 23rd choice. ESPN’s Chad Ford said he believes the Jazz will use its second-round selection (35th overall) on Wilcox. NBAdraftexpress has Dallas taking Wilcox in the second round with the 34th overall choice.
“I’ve heard about a million different things, and I don’t know what to listen to any more,” Wilcox said. “I’ve heard a lot of stuff. I’ve got about four, five teams saying in the 20s. A few more in the 30s. There’s a couple of situations where I could sneak a little bit higher. … Most say my range is from 23 to 38.”
Regardless if he’s a first- or second-rounder, Wilcox will almost certainly be taken in the draft, which is a significant accomplishment considering he arrived at Washington in 2009 as an unheralded three-star prospect from Pleasant Grove (Utah) High School.
He redshirted as a freshman and was a reserve his first two years. Each season Wilcox improved his scoring average (8.1 points per game, 14.2, 16.8 and 18.3) and is second on UW’s career scoring list. He also holds every significant UW three-point shooting record.
“C.J. has been pretty patient,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He’s been a sponge. He’s someone that was just so coachable. I think he was taught right. His dad gave him a great foundation — respecting authority, respecting the game, working at it (and) the discipline. That base that he had coming in here really helped.”
At the request of his former high-school coach, Randy McAllister, Wilcox returned home a few weeks ago to speak at the basketball camp.
“Kids were asking him about how much money will you make, and he was very humble in the things he said,” McAllister said. “To see him, how he’s matured and grown to such a solid young man, is really cool.”
McAllister, who has coached high-school basketball the past 27 years, said Wilcox’s work ethic is legendary stuff at Pleasant Grove.
“His story is appealing and universal because here’s a kid, like so many kids, who fell in love with a sport, had a passion for it and just worked his (tail) off to get better,” McAllister said. “He committed himself to a purpose. He put in the work and it’s paying off. That’s the lesson you’re trying to teach as a coach.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278
On Twitter @percyallen