For someone who never finished high school and never played organized basketball in his life prior to college, Salt Lake Community College men's basketball star Gary Wilkinson has come along way with a little hard work and determination.
Wilkinson dropped out of Bingham High School as a senior and had no direction in life for a time before he found guidance and motivation when he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission to Calgary.
When he returned home, Wilkinson had found his motivation and decided to enroll at SLCC. Having never played organized basketball a day in his life, Wilkinson took the unusual step of phoning men's basketball coach Norm Parrish and asking him for a tryout. Parrish skeptically agreed but was pleasantly surprised when Wilkinson made an impressive showing in his tryout. So impressive, in fact, that he earned a spot on the team.
"Not too many coaches would give a kid who never played high school ball a chance to play, and coach Parrish gave me that chance," said a grateful Wilkinson. "The coaches here have been great to me."
Wilkinson has taken full advantage of his opportunity to play for the Bruins and has made a remarkable turnaround in his life. During the 2005-06 season, he was named to the Scenic West Athletic Conference First Team, the NJCAA All-American Third Team, and most notably to the Academic All-American Team with a 3.96 grade-point average.
"Gary is a dream athlete in that he's not only an athletic All-American, but he's an Academic All-American as well," said Parrish. "He may be the only kid in the country at the junior college level on both lists."
On the personal and academic side, Wilkinson has also found success. The sophomore Sociology major is planning on attending law school upon graduation from a four-year institution. In addition, in 2006 he married SLCC volleyball star Jessica Peterson-Wilkinson.
Wilkinson's determination to succeed has inspired his teammates, and he has become the team's leader on and off the court.
"Gary is our emotional leader and team leader. We run an inside-oriented offense that is centered around him," added Parrish. "An amazing thing about Gary is that even when he doesn't seem to play well, he has great games statistically."
This season, Wilkinson has averaged an outstanding 17.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, which is good enough to rank fifth and fourth in each statistical category in the SWAC respectively. However, Wilkinson believes that his teammates deserve the credit for his on-court success.
"We are a tough, hard-nosed team," said Wilkinson. "We have no selfish players, and everyone is working for the good of the team, and that is why we have been successful together and individually."
Wilkinson's positive outlook is amazing to most people who meet him, and he is grateful for every opportunity that has come his way.
"I couldn't ask for a better coach here at SLCC, and I've enjoyed a lot of my professors here," said Wilkinson. "I tell my wife how lucky we are to be here (at SLCC) because of how well we are treated. I am grateful for the opportunity to have played here and been educated here."