Though Red Claws' rookie guard Frank Gaines was honored in a unique way with the NBA D-League's "Most Improved Player" award this past season, it could be argued that Tulsa 66ers' second year player Isaiah Wilkerson was among those who made the most strides from one season to the next.
Wilkerson's scoring average ticked up nearly seven points this year, as he continued to emerge as an offensive spark plug for the 66ers off the bench. His evident progression was subsequently rewarded rather quickly, as the 23 year old was one of just thirty-seven total prospects invited to the NBADL's Elite Mini-Camp in Chicago this week.
Perhaps once otherwise considered an underdog, Wilkerson did what he could to stand tall amongst some of the league's best young guns while playing in front of a handful of NBA executives.
"I think I played pretty well. It was a great experience because I was able to play against some top level guys, but I held my own," Wilkerson said while reflecting on the experience with RidiculousUpside.com. "I made the right plays, served as the point guard, but also played the two a little bit when needed. With so many good teammates, I was able to do what I do. It went well. If something good comes out of this, that's great. If not, this has already been good, simply because I experienced something I've never done before. I'm happy. I'm excited. It was a good week for me."
Of course, the NJIT alum's most recent success in Tulsa provided him with a major confidence boost heading into the camp. Addressing the opportunity to play an increased role with the 66ers, Wilkerson asserted, "That was cool. I went into Tulsa and just stayed ready. I just kept working and remained humble. When you continue to work hard, good things start to happen for you. I've been blessed to have an opportunity like this. It wasn't surprising, because I know I've put in the work. It wasn't like I was sitting on my butt at home and then this stuff started happening. It was a lot of hard work. It was definitely rewarding."
"Isaiah did a tremendous job [last] offseason by changing his body. His overall work ethic and commitment to this thing was unparalleled this year," added the guard's agent, BJ Bass of RBA Sports. "It was a huge difference from last year to this year. Before Isaiah was with me, I could tell just what an incredible teammate he was by watching him on the bench with Tulsa. Even when he was wasn't playing a lot, he was still supportive of everyone else."
"I'm still in shape. When people come back home during the offseason, sometimes they take days off and get out of shape. I'm still able to guard people. I'm still the same guy. I don't change around anybody. I'm always just the guy I was raised to be," Wilkerson continued. "That's a good person; a good teammate. I was supporting the guys I was paired up with this week, as though they were my teammates for years. I want everyone to know I'm a good teammate and someone who will work as hard as possible."
The young gun was coached by Santa Cruz Warriors' coach Casey Hill during the camp, and shared the court with teammates such as the BayHawks' Lewis Jackson, Armor center Jeff Foote, Bighorns' guard Trent Lockett, and Charge swingman Shane Edwards.
Most prospects strutting their stuff in Chicago this week are hoping to cash in on some success at camp en route to a gig at NBA Summer League. As fate would have it, Wilkerson's goal is, of course, no different.
"I think the reason Tulsa and Oklahoma City Thunder organization is really high on him comes down to his work ethic and values as a teammate. What he proved to me, as well as his team this year, is that he's a clutch player," Bass went on to add. "There were nights where that was no question who [Coach Darko Rajakovic] was going to late in games. Isaiah became that guy for Darko. Those three things continue to help him prove there's a place for him in this league. We've just got to continue grinding it out towards NBA Summer League. That's the next step for us."
Wilkerson may not the biggest name or the flashiest player available, but if one thing is for sure, it's that he works hard to ensure he keeps up with just about anyone. His work ethic, grit, and determination make him a worthwhile and intriguing option to grant an extra look, if nothing else. Wilkerson deserves a shot, and if he's provided one, it's likely he won't disappoint.