Utah State's Gary Wilkinson A Changed Man - On And Off The Basketball Court
Jan. 21, 2009
LOGAN, Utah - It's not uncommon for a teenage boy to feel lost at times, to wonder what life has to offer. In rare cases, one will even rebel and choose an alternate path; one that is not socially or morally acceptable. Such was the case with Gary Wilkinson. And for anyone who has had the privilege to meet the out-going redhead, you would never guess that not long ago Gary's life was spiraling out of control.
Raised in Salt Lake City, Gary's upbringing was no different than anyone else. His parents, Gary and Kristine Wilkinson, were even members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, though they rarely attended Sunday service. As a youth, Gary never did get baptized and even took measures to avoid any religious gatherings.
As Gary matured and advanced in high school, he never seemed to find his niche athletically or academically. He did try out for the basketball team his sophomore year, but was cut in large part to a bad attitude and lack of desire. The volatile combination finally seized control of his life midway through his senior year at Bingham High School, and Gary simply dropped out of school, three months before graduation.
"I had no desire to go to school," admits Wilkinson. "I didn't feel like the things I was learning had a lot of validity to what was required to be successful."
So there he was, a high-school dropout with no desire and a bad attitude. Not necessarily the best of combinations to find success or make a name for yourself.
Then in November of 2000, one of Gary's friends took his own life, and that tragic event forced Gary to re-evaluate the prior decisions he had made. Shortly there-after, Gary embarked on a new path in life that included joining the LDS Church and serving a two-year mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
"When the Church came into my life, it provided me with the structure to be successful," Wilkinson stated. "The Lord had done so much for me. I knew I could never repay Him, but serving a mission seemed like a desirable thing to do."
Once Gary returned from his mission, he decided he wanted to give basketball another try. So he called Norm Parrish, the head men's basketball coach at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), and secured a tryout with the team. Two days later he was offered a scholarship.
And when that scholarship from SLCC was offered, Gary took full advantage of it - both on and off the basketball court. In his two years at the junior college level, Gary thrived in his new surroundings earning junior college All-American honors twice as he averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game as a freshman, and 18.5 points and 8.1 rebounds as a sophomore. Gary also thrived in the classroom, earning a cumulative 3.96 grade-point average and was twice awarded Academic All-America honors.
With a successful stint both athletically and academically at Salt Lake Community College coming to an end, Gary set his sights on a four-year institution and transferred to Utah State University to continue his development as a student-athlete. And even though his demands were more at USU, Gary continued to excel. In his first year with the Aggies, he earned second-team all-Western Athletic Conference honors as he averaged 13.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in helping USU win its first-ever WAC regular season championship and finish the year with a 24-11 record. He also earned academic all-WAC honors majoring in sociology.
Entering his senior season, Gary's list of honors and accomplishments continue to grow. Beginning the year, Gary was named the WAC's Preseason Player of the Year. He was also named a preseason high-major All-American by CollegeHoops.net, and to the early season watch list for the Naismith Trophy, given annually to college basketball's player of the year. Furthermore, Gary was also named a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which is presented annually to one senior in the country who demonstrates outstanding character and competition, not only on the court and in the classroom, but in the community as well.
Now, with a college degree just months away and a potential professional basketball career on the horizon, Gary Wilkinson has truly come full circle from his days at Bingham High School. Days where his bad attitude and lack of desire kept closed the doors of athletics and academics, the two things that has helped him realize his dreams.