FLINT, Michigan — They simply don’t exist for him.
The thought of Darius Wilson having a bad practice seems foreign to his longtime coach at International Academy of Flint, on the city’s south side.
And, to be sure, a city coach knows what one looks like.
“He never had a bad day of practice … I never had to ask him to concentrate or focus … never had to remind him to go hard; and I never, not even once, had to get on him for having a poor attitude,” said Chris Matheson, who coached the IAF senior for his first three seasons on varsity. “For three years straight he worked hard in practice and never got in trouble off the floor. He’s a model student, a gentleman and an absolute pleasure to coach.”
His current head coach echoed the sentiment, and without prodding.
“In my time here at IAF, I’ve honestly never seen Darius have a bad practice,” said IAF head coach, and former assistant under Matheson, Tim Tenneriello. “Not once have I seen him ‘not feel like playing today.’ These days, that ‘s quite an accomplishment.Tenneriello tells a story about the summer after Wilson’s sophomore season when he took on the bad habit of talking to officials too much during games. Matheson had finally seen (and heard) enough and chewed his best player out for it. Matheson told him that that if he spoke another word to an official, “he could find another school to play for.”
“That next game after being embarrassed in front of the team and torn apart by Chris and myself, not one thing changed about the way he played the game except for the rest of the summer, and the next season, Darius said nothing to any referees,” Tenneriello said. “He’s just a coachable and eager basketball player looking for every opportunity to get better. He’s every coach’s dream player.”
Wilson, a 5-9 combo guard and four-year varsity starter, just flat-out loves the game. You can’t spend five minutes with him without hearing about last night’s big game, be it college or pro. And throughout his career at IAF, he has done whatever it takes to stay in the game he loves.
Punching the clock
Wilson is working man without a peer at the high school level. He has seen his teams through deindustrial-style attrition, lopsided losses and unlikely victories. Through it all, he has remained the same staid student who stays on his job, morning, noon and night.
“He’s an impressive young man,” said Tenneriello. “He maintains above a 3.0 (grade point average) with our college prep curriculum, which is not an easy thing to do, and has consistently done so the last four years.”
For Wilson, performing in the classroom is, in part, a reflection of how he feels about his school. It’s his way of showing appreciation for all the effort made on his behalf to help him be a standout in the classroom and on the court.
“I’m able to balance my school work with sports because of all the things available to me at my school like study hall before practice,” he said. “I just have to have the respect for it to be able to represent my school as a student-athlete.”
For many coaches, defense is what separates the men in hard hats from the men in suit jackets; those who bring their lunch from those who buy it. And even though Wilson is currently leading the Flint area in scoring at 21 points per game, defense is what separates him from the crowd.
“His greatest strength is his defense,” said Jim Pope, who coached Darius for two seasons of AAU basketball. “That’s saying a lot when you look at his ability to score, rebound and distribute the ball. It’s amazing how he can shut players down of all sizes. He finds a way to frustrate the players that he defends. He’s the first on the floor after a loose ball. He just works harder than anyone on the floor.”
It should be no surprise, then, that defense is the first thing he talks about when attempting to describe his own game, in his own words.
“I’m a hard-nosed defender who’s physical and capable of beating my man for a layup,” he said. “My game has developed from a spot-up shooter and defender to a versatile guard who can check bigger players, rebound and also get teammates involved.”
Wilson has taken a little bit of wisdom from everyone who has ever coached him. He studies the game, has a healthy respect for the opportunity and a sense of purpose that has made all the hard work worth it.
“I learned from my coaches to always play hard no matter what the score is and to have fun,” he said. “I guess the most important thing I’ve learned from Coach Matheson is that playing basketball doesn’t stay around forever, and to try to make the most of it now.”
Wilson led the Phoenix to a win over rival Genesee Christian Tuesday night. He scored 20 points with nine rebounds and four assists. He is currently leading the team in scoring and rebounds. He is being recruited at the D-III and NAIA levels, but is an intriguing walk-on prospect for a creative football program.
— By Jared Field | Great Lakes Hoops