After a solid two-year stint at the University of Georgia, Damien Wilkins went undrafted in the 2004 NBA draft. After not getting selected, Wilkins signed with the then-Seattle SuperSonics before the team moved to Oklahoma City. In those 5 seasons in Seattle/OKC, Wilkins averaged 7.2 points and 2.5 rebounds on 46% from the field, which allowed him to be a solid bench player. In the summer of 2009, Wilkins was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. During that lone season with the Timberwolves, Wilkins put up 5.6 points, 3.1 boards and 1.7 assists per game on 45% from the field in 20 minutes per game.
Following his stint in Minnesota, Wilkins bounced around with a few more NBA teams (Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia) switching off between stints in the D-League and in overseas countries like China, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. After spending the prior season with Guaros de Lara in Venezuela, the 37-year-old Wilkins decided to return to the D-League where he was acquired by the Greensboro Swarm.
Currently with the Swarm, Wilkins has positioned himself as the main veteran leader for the young D-League squad. Currently, Wilkins is averaging 12 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 47% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc in 30 minutes per game.
Thankfully, Wilkins was able to take time away from his successful stint with the Swarm to answer some questions from Ridiculous Upside.
Cole Shelton: You have years of NBA experience, why did you decide to come play in the D-League?
Damien Wilkins: I decided to come and play in the D-League because it gives me the best chance of getting back to the NBA. That’s ultimately what all the players here want to do (get to the NBA), and being here probably gives me the best chance.
CS: How’s it been to play with an expansion D-League organization in the
DW: Greensboro has been great, the community and fan support is awesome. The organization takes great care of us. We have our own facilities, can’t ask for much more in the D-League.
CS: It’s now been 13 years since he first landed in the NBA. How has the league changed since your rookie year?
DW: Since my rookie year the game has changed tremendously. There wasn’t such a huge emphasis on 3 point shooting and all that analytical stuff. It was a matter of could you play your role or not.
CS: This is your 2nd stint in the D-League, how much has your NBA experience helped you?
DW: Experience is the best teacher. Having played some years in the NBA I realize I’m way ahead of the curve down here. The game is much slower to me, so I’m able to use pace to my advantage. Where as most guys here are always on 100mph. That’s probably the biggest advantage on the court. Off the court, I’d say it’s knowing that you’ll never understand the business and to not take things personal. To me it’s the best way to stay positive and in the moment.
CS: many players on the Swarm been picking your brain on the NBA?
DW: Most of the guys on my team are pretty inquisitive. They ask questions about what it takes, how to maintain their bodies and conditioning, how to be a pro etc. I answer to the best of my knowledge but we’re all learning from each other.
CS: D-League salaries are known to not be a lot, but if salaries were higher do you think that would keep more players here longer and bring overseas players here?
DW: If the D-League salaries were higher it would definitely make for more players opting to stay here as opposed to going abroad. Not many undrafted or second round guys or guys that are not quite THERE yet can turn 100’s of thousands of dollars down, as they don’t know if they’ll see it again.
CS: Coming off of that, why do you think that D-League salaries can’t come close to overseas salaries?
DW: There is lots of salary in Europe and overseas that come from wealthy team owners that don’t mind spending to improve their respective teams. They’re not bound by salary caps or rules like over here. They spend to make their teams competitive.
CS: Finally, the D-League gives you the best chance to reach the NBA but is the salary worth it?
DW: For me I’ve made money throughout my career, as for me being here wasn’t about that. Being here was me betting on myself and chasing a goal, and not being afraid of what was behind the door. I know what I want and while many people say it may not be possible or a it’s a long shot or whatever else they can think of me, for me, I’m trusting the work I’ve put in and hoping that just one team can look at me and say “that guy can help us!” That’s all it takes, thats’s all I’m hoping for.
While others the salary may not be worth it for some and for others not so much. Everyone is different and has a story of their own.