Wilkins looking to rebound next year|Frustrated with lack of playing time

Published 2:18 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sports Editor

Damien Wilkins found himself in a different role with the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, and he didn’t much care for it.
Playing on a team that finished 23-59, the fourth worst record in the NBA, Wilkins found himself on the bench for much of the season. The five-year NBA veteran played in just half (41) of his team’s 82 games, starting 14 of them and averaging 15.30 minutes per game.
This came after Wilkins posted career-highs in points, rebounds and assists the year before (with the Seattle SuperSonics).
Wilkins, a Washington native who will host his fifth annual “Fun Day” celebration Saturday, said the lack of playing time was tough to deal with all year.
“It was very upsetting,” Wilkins said Tuesday evening. “I want to be out on the floor. When you know you can help the team, it’s disheartening.
“It makes you discouraged and you start to doubt your talent. It’s the way of the league. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t.”
The 6-6, 225-pound guard/forward averaged 5.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.5 steals per game last year.
They were all career-lows, coming one year after he posted career-highs with 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Despite the lack of time on the floor, Wilkins hasn’t let that discourage him, or shatter his confidence.
“I believe in myself,” said Wilkins, who will host basketball camps Thursday and Friday at P.S. Jones Middle School. “It’s always been rough on me, but I’ve always persevered.
“I’m a kid from Washington, North Carolina, going on my sixth year in the NBA. Not many people have had this opportunity or gone to some of the places I’ve been. I’m used to being the underdog. I’m a fighter. I never let anyone tell me I can’t do anything.”
Wilkins said he’s had plenty of support, and has even received words of encouragement from opposing coaches and players.
“They have said, ‘you’re a great player; keep your head up,’” Wilkins said. “That’s good to hear.”
Wilkins is signed to return to the Thunder next year. However, he could be traded at any point, and he understands that.
It may not matter what jersey Wilkins is wearing, as long as he gets to play in it.
“I’m just hoping to play; that’s all,” Wilkins said. “I just want to play basketball. I just want the opportunity to help a team be successful because I know I can do that.
“At the end of the day, I just want to be on the floor.”
Wilkins holds career-averages of 7.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
He has played in 310 games and scored 2,359 points, pulled down 802 rebounds, dished off 476 assists and snagged 270 steals.
Wilkins is averaging 41.9 percent (876 of 2,091) from the field, including 33.8 percent (157 of 464) from 3-point range, and 80.9 percent (450 of 556) at the free throw line.
He’ll look to add to those totals, and play quite a bit more, next year. He’s already preparing the only way he knows how.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot,” Wilkins said. “I’m working even harder, and I started working earlier than ever before. I’m playing a lot this summer, looking to keep everything sharp and getting a rhythm.”
Wilkins said he’s still got plenty of basketball left in him.
“I have a whole lot more to prove, Wilkins said. “I have a whole lot more playing days in me.”