From 2004-13, Damien Wilkins managed to carve out a steady niche as a key role player for six NBA teams, all the while posting a 6.3 point per game average. Needless to say, the son of Gerald Wilkins and nephew of Dominique Wilkins put together what most people around the league consider to be a more than respectable career over nine seasons.
But at 35 years old, the veteran has now made his way to the NBA D-League with the Iowa Energy, affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Most veterans looking for redemption and/or a second chance in The Association arrive in the D-League with so much to prove.. But with just one season in between this one and his last gig with the Atlanta Hawks in 2012-13, Wilkins looks as good as ever, should any big league team ultimately come calling.
After spending much of last year in China, where does Wilkins' motivation to keep going come from? He's played professional basketball for about a decade now. What keeps his hunger alive for one more shot?
"When you work as hard as I do, you just kind of want to do things on your own terms. When you're pursuing something, you want to see it through," he told RidiculousUpside.com while getting ready to hit the hardwood at the Barclays Center for the 2015 NBA D-League All-Star Game. "My career is headed in the right direction, but it's also headed in the sort of direction where I know the end is near, too. I just want to get back [to the NBA]. I want to prove I can still help a team win. That's my motivation. I want to be back in the NBA, and the D-League is the best place to make that happen"
So far, as evidenced by his impressive midseason honor, Wilkins has continued to impress. Stepping up for Iowa as a bonafide stat-sheet stuffer of sorts, the swingman has averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.7 steals though thirty games.
"I think experience is the big thing for me; just the way I've been winning. With these young guys, the game just goes like 100 miles per hour. For me, the game comes a lot slower. I use that to my advantage," Wilkins explained when pondering the keys to his success this season. "A lot of these young guys are catching up though. The more basketball they play, the more they'll begin to realize other things too. But I've played a lot of years in the NBA. The game does come slower to me, so I'm able to just relax."
He continued, "For the younger guys, there's so much pressure. You can tell. They feel it, especially because of who they're trying to perform for. Personally, I know that the best way to perform is to go out there, block it all out, and just play. You're already here, so just let your play do the talking."
As talented and as efficient as Wilkins has proven to be, the fact of the matter remains he has plenty of help, too. Despite playing in a more competitive division, the Energy still hold a record above .500 as of February 20th. The veteran merely highlights the slew of well-known athletes in Iowa hoping for a second chance in the NBA.
Wilkins says there's something positive to that.
"I'm very fortunate. It's a good problem to have, if someone chooses to call it that. We have a lot of experience. These guys are hungry," the nine-year NBA vet said. "We have Kalin Lucas, Diante Garrett, Tyrus Thomas, Larry Owens. These are guys who have tasted it and are eager to get back. It makes the game a lot easier when you're out there playing alongside that type of experience."
With so many egos and/or dominant personalities in one place, especially on the D-League level, it's sometimes difficult for a minor league team to come together for the greater good. After all, each and every individual is out to prove themselves. Still, recording W's in the victory column still amounts for something.
"Winning is the best thing to do. You want to go out there and play well. You want to compete and display a competitive spirit. I think you just want to be a star in the role you've been given. All of those things intertwine with one another. You typically do have success as a team," Wilkins said. "There are sacrifices you have to make, but there are even more sacrifices you'll need to make on the next level. Whatever your role may be in the D-League, even if you're good at it, there's likely to be someone better [in the NBA.] In that regard, things will be even easier! I wouldn't be expected to go out and score 23 points per game."
For contending teams looking for a steady presence to come in and fill a void off the bench by providing an immediate scoring boost, a veteran like Wilkins might be the man to call. He'd quietly fit right in, whereas other younger players in the minor league might require more attention as they adjust to the culture change.
Even as Wilkins struts his stuff while attempting to pave his way back into The Association, he can still appreciate when some of the up and coming youngsters that he's previously guided as a steady veteran find success of their own. After all, the first-place Atlanta Hawks (complete with four NBA All-Stars) were one of the most recent NBA teams to employ Wilkins.
"Oh, it's fun. I know Jeff [Teague] and I know how badly he wanted [to become an All-Star]. I know how discouraged he was at times about it as well, so it's good to see where he is now," Wilkins conveyed. "He's a budding superstar in his own right as one of the best point guards in the league. He's doing a tremendous job for his team. I know where he's come from to get here, so I'm happy for him."