MORE THAN A GAME I
A return to the court gave Tim Wilkes a different perspective on basketball, the sport that used to dominate his life. By Tyler Heffernan.
n the Schwartz Center, Tim Wilkes has faced the uncertain Wilkes hears a loud voice moment in an athlete’s life when calling out plays and shout- the sport that had captivated him ing words of encouragement. for years was no longer there. It’s Over 900 miles away, in St. Lou- helped him to appreciate the secis, Mo., he hears a much quieter ond chance he has in Wilmington voice saying: “I miss you, Daddy.” but also realize the bigger picture. Wilkes, a forward on the Cape After spending a year at LewFear Commuis & Clark Comnity College munity College in men’s basketGodfrey, Ill., Wilball team, is the kes left the game type of player behind because he that coach Ryan was unhappy with Mantlo loves to his first season of teach. He’ll dicollegiate basketTim Wilkes rect him to do ball. He moved one thing on the to Dallas, Texas court, and Wilkes will do it with a to work as a suite runner in “Yes, sir” and unrivaled intensity. American Airlines Center, the But, Wilkes is more than just home of the Dallas Mavericks. a basketball player. He’s a family “Basically tryman: the father of his two-year- ing to get my old daughter, Londyn “Bells,” who grown-man on, lives in St. Louis with her mother. so to speak,” “It’s my life,” he said, staring he said, adding towards a corner of Mantlo’s of- a laugh. fice and letting his mind wander “It paid very to that little voice he hears on the well, but I just phone every night. “I have to be felt like I needin my daughter’s life. I can’t fail. ed to be on the I try to work hard on and off the basketball court,” he said. “I was court—even harder off the court, around basketball all day, every because I know at the end of the day. I used to sit up there and watch day, my legs are going to go out.” them practice and be like, ‘Man,
“I know at the end of the day, my legs are going to go out.”
maybe one day that could be me.’” Wilkes felt distant to the game, despite its physical closeness. It was right there, yet watching and playing were so different. The job did have its perks, though. “I knew the times when the opposing team would come to the arena, so about that time, I would purposely take out the trash,” he said. “I spoke to DeSagana Diop. I walked past Dwyane Wade. I never got to meet Kobe (Bryant).” He dreamed about being the hidden talent who attracts the attention of one of the Mavericks’ coaches. “I’m out there one day just shooting around, and a coach comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, you got a good shot, you want to try out?’ Even though I knew that would never happen,” Wilkes said, laughing again in his usual, infectious way. “Being around it so much made me feel like I needed to change my environment up and go pursue it even more.” A former Lewis & Clark CC teammate, who had moved to
Wilmington, introduced him to Mantlo in 2010. The Sea Devil coach was immediately won over. “What is unique about him is he’s such a high-character kid, and especially in today’s society, it’s hard to find kids all about ‘we’ and not ‘me,’” Mantlo said. “That’s what we try to preach here, and he’s obviously the epitome of what that is. We knew he was a hard worker. We knew he had a little girl that he works his tail off to keep that relationship and he was a solid basketball player, so it was a no-brainer for us as a staff.” The 6-foot-5-inch forward hadn’t played competitive basketball in four years, but Mantlo welcomed him on a team coming off its best season in program history. “There’s no rust with hustle,” Mantlo said. “Anytime we need some energy or we need a rebound, he’s the first one you think of because you never have to question whether he’s ready to go.” Wilkes, 23, is on track to earn his Associate’s degree and pursue a career in dental hygiene. “People say I got a Colgate smile; I want to make everyone else have one too,” Wilkes said. His mother received a GED and his father finished high school. He’ll be the first in his family to receive a college degree. The little voice on the phone nearly 1,000 miles away depends on it. “There’s a bigger entity in his daughter,” Mantlo said. “This is a game that he can appreciate and learn from, but at the end of the day, there’s a more important being out there than basketball, and I think that’s awesome.”
Wilkes has ink all over his body. He said every one of them means something, from the names of his parents on his hands to an inside joke with his grandmother on his back. “COA” is the misfit now.
CENTER OF ATTENTION Taking a charge won’t get you any recognition in the box score. Most fans don’t appreciate the discipline needed to stand in front of an accelerating player and allow yourself to get knocked to the ground. And it won’t crack SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. But, it’s a momentum changer. The opposing team gets whistled for a foul and slapped with a turnover. It’s all about team welfare. Tim Wilkes’ favorite individual moment on the court this season is taking a charge. He made 32 field goals, grabbed 58 rebounds and collected 25 steals. His first charge trumps those other statistics. “I don’t think I ever took a charge in high school,” he said. “This year, I’m trying to take a charge. I was always the one trying to block a shot.” About a decade earlier, Wilkes was the popular kid in school. He had athletic abilities and a personable nature. His brother was right there with him—a pair demanding all the attention. Behind his right ear, a tattoo reads: “COA.” “Back in the day, people used to call us pretty boys,” he said. “We were always the center of attention.”
ENERGY PLAYER An incident at Lewis & Clark CC caused him to receive 37 stitches above his right eye. He said he was struck by a shovel as an unintended victim in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of having a personal vendetta, Wilkes made sure he wouldn’t have to explain to his toddler why Daddy went to the hospital. He eventually enrolled at CFCC, a time zone away. “I rarely get mad. The only thing that could make me mad off the top of my head if it comes with my daughter,” Wilkes said, raising his voice slightly. “Anything that has to do with my daughter, that’s like my switch. Hands down, if something were to happen to my daughter, I’d give up basketball just like that. I’m here because I felt like me working 9-to-5 wasn’t being able to provide for her the way I want to.” In that regard, little Londyn’s voice is louder than any command from Mantlo or any arguing in a backyard brawl. On Twitter: @TylerHeff