Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| September 8, 2005
About this time a year ago, Seattle SuperSonics swingman Damien Wilkins
arrived in Seattle hoping to make the Sonics roster. He came with no guarantees as an undrafted rookie, looking to beat out four other players invited by the Sonics to training camp.
Wilkins did just that, survived the point at which contracts became guaranteed and got his chance late in the regular season and during the playoffs following injuries to forwards Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic. After averaging 7.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game on a national stage against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, Wilkins became a hot commodity this summer as a restricted free agent.
"To get the opportunity to play again with this group of guys, this organization and play for this city is an unbelievable feeling."
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
After being courted by former Sonics Head Coach Nate McMillan
, now in Portland, Wilkins signed an offer sheet with the Minnesota Timberwolves, coached by former Sonics assistant Dwane Casey
. The Sonics did not need the entire seven-day period to choose to match the offer and keep Wilkins in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
Shortly after the Sonics matched the offer, SUPERSONICS.COM had the chance to sit down with Wilkins on the same Furtado Center court where he earned his way onto the team to talk about his emotions and excitement about his new contract.
SUPERSONICS.COM: Can you describe the emotions of this summer and everything that has happened?
Wilkins: I really can't put it into words. It's been an unbelievable summer. I didn't expect to have this much interest from around the league, but it's been fun. I'm just happy I'm back where I'm supposed to be. To get the opportunity to play again with this group of guys, this organization and play for this city is an unbelievable feeling. It feels good to be wanted, that's for sure.
What is the comparison like between this summer and last summer?
It's like night and day, to tell you the truth. I never expected any of this, not this soon. I guess that's what taking advantage of your opportunity brings - not only that, just working hard and having great teammates. That played a huge part. I had great teammates who were willing to help me improve and help me stay focused and stay ready. It was easy to go out there and take advantage of the opportunity given you have the support of your teammates and your coaches.
I remember talking to you before the start of last season about Marquis Daniels and whether you could do what he did. Now do players think about doing what Damien Wilkins did?
Hopefully. Marquis is a friend of mine, and we talked a lot last year. I used to wonder how he did it. He just told me he stayed in the gym, worked hard and stayed ready. That was one of the things that I tried to focus on last year. Plus, like I said, I had great teammates who were able to help me improve as a basketball player, stay focused and stay ready. It was easy to go out there and just play basketball, because they made it easy.
I'm sure there's going to be others that come behind us who are going that they can play in this league. The guys in the NBA aren't the smartest in the world; they don't know it all - I'm sure they'd be the first to tell you that. They make mistakes. Marquis is one of them, and hopefully there's a long line of others soon to follow.
Does this deal make it more difficult for you to have the kind of hunger you had as a rookie?
Not me, because I saw what hard work can bring. I'm going to keep working hard, hopefully to get another five-year deal. All the hard work I had to go through, everything I had to endure to get this contract, this will never add up to everything I had to go through to get where I am. I'm still hungry. I realize teams passed up on me and left me sitting in the draft room. That is embedded in me. It has stained me. I can't really get rid of that thought and my picture; I can't get it out of my head. I don't know when it's going to go, but I know it's not going to go any time soon, not in the next five years.
Is there any disappointment not to play for the Timberwolves?
No, because it feels good to be wanted. To be back here where I'm comfortable - comfortable with the city, familiar with the city and the fans, familiar with the guys we have here. I don't know any of those guys that play for Minnesota. They could be total jerks. Not to say that they are, because I don't think they are, but they could be. To come back here with these guys, this is just a great group of guys. You don't get that much in the NBA, to be around guys who you just enjoy being around - not just playing, but just enjoy being around. You never really get sick of them. All I wanted was what was best, and that's all I prayed for. I'm back here in the Green and Gold, and I'm here because it was best for me. It was a win-win situation for me, and being back here where I'm comfortable makes it that much sweeter.
Rick Sund mentioned he felt the Sonics faith in you as an undrafted rookie meant you had a closer relationship with the team. Do you feel that way?
There's not much loyalty in this league, and I knew coming into this summer that I had played my way into position to play for someone. I had preferred it be here. This is the team that gave me an opportunity initially and believed in me when the other teams didn't. To come back here and play really means a lot to me, to know that they wanted me back. That has helped our relationship, without being said. It's brought myself and this organization, staff a lot closer.
What are you envisioning for next season?
Really the same thing I always envision from season to season, going back to high school: Focus on improving as a basketball player and focus on doing whatever it takes to make the team successful. We haven't gotten into what my role is going to be. Obviously, it's going to be as a backup to Rashard and Ray (Allen). That's not bad company to back up. Backing up those guys a little bit last year got me a five-year deal. Hopefully, at the end of this next five years, I can get another one backing those guys up. I'm happy to be here. Like I said, this is the best place for me to be. I'm just excited, ready to get started.
Is there a feeling amongst the players of, 'Let's bring everyone back and try to repeat what we did last year?'
I think there is, but at the same time, everyone understands how this league works. Guys do what's best for them, and organizations do what's best for them. I think the decisions that the Sonics have made this summer have been great moves. I don't think they're done, and I think they're going to continue to make decisions that are best for them. I trust that they're going to make the right decisions and put us in position to be successful, as they have all summer.