By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY — Drive about 40 minutes south of here, and you will find the city of Pleasant Grove, where C.J. Wilcox grew up and began honing the 3-point touch that has made him one of the nation’s most dangerous shooters.
It was there, more than half of a decade ago, where Washington coach Lorenzo Romar made an in-home visit to Wilcox and his family.
But Romar heard something from Wilcox’s father, Craig, during that visit that he wasn’t expecting. And it’s the biggest reason why Wilcox, a fifth-year senior, is still at UW.
“One of the questions asked (by) his dad was, ‘what do you think about redshirting?’ I wasn’t prepared for that one,” Romar said, “because C.J. was good enough to play as a freshman, and in this day and age, parents don’t think that way. The kid doesn’t think that way. No one thinks there are some things that need to be worked on here, and we want to take advantage of all those things.”
Nobody except Craig, whose vision for his son’s collegiate career included a year getting acclimated to the college game. C.J. was cool with it, too.
“They had so many good players ahead of me. Just coming in, being new to the defensive thing … I didn’t want to waste half a year getting comfortable playing,” Wilcox said last week. “I think I’m benefitting from it right now.”
So Wilcox sat during his freshman season, a decision that puzzled fans who throughout that 2009-10 season bemoaned the Huskies’ lack of perimeter shooting.
They didn’t know, Romar said, what he knew. And because of the decision to sit Wilcox during a season in which players like Isaiah Thomas, Justin Holiday, Venoy Overton, Abdul Gaddy and Elston Turner were going to get more minutes at the guard positions, Wilcox is back for a fifth season and will play for the final time today near his hometown, as the Huskies visit Utah — the school he chose UW over — at 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks).
The redshirt process required patience, not only from Wilcox, but from Romar, who admits there were times he had to fight the urge to send Wilcox into the game when the Huskies needed someone to knock down some outside shots.
“I can’t fault the fans if they don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills. I can see why they might be worried,” Romar said of the criticism back then. “But we knew. So that didn’t affect me as much as every now and then, I just kind of wanted to go, “C.J.!” (get in the game). But we resisted the temptation.”
They were rewarded with what has so far been the kind of fifth-year senior season everyone envisioned. Of course, Wilcox had a chance to leave after last season for the NBA draft, but chose instead to return to school. But he said at the time that the plan from the start was to put together as strong of a fifth season as possible, so that’s what he decided to do.
After all, the decision was made in the first place, he said, “just knowing that if I take that first year off, I’d have a much better senior year than I would a freshman year.”
It’s worked so far. Wilcox leads the team and is second in the conference in scoring with 19.8 points per game, and is shooting 42.8 percent from the 3-point line after leading the Huskies in scoring as a junior, too.
His abilities will be paramount to UW’s chances of winning today night in the Huntsman Center. The Huskies downed Utah 59-57 at home earlier this season, but are trying to get untracked after a disappointing loss at Washington State last week.
A win in the hostile environment Utah has become would go a long way toward erasing some of the sting the Huskies encountered in Pullman.
“If we come out and play well, do what we’re supposed to do, that certainly helps,” Romar said. “Any time you can win on the road, it certainly helps. So we just have to wait and see what happens on that.