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Thunder’s Mike Wilks is well-traveled

BY DARNELL MAYBERRY, Staff Writer, Published: December 1, 2009
Mike Wilks has been the little guy with big dreams.

He pictured himself signing with a college basketball power. He wanted to hear his name announced on draft night by the NBA commissioner. He even had thoughts of being an NBA All-Star.

It wasn’t to be for Wilks, the 5-foot-10 point guard who the Thunder signed Thursday out of desperation. Wilks played his college ball at Rice, went undrafted in 2001 and has spent the past eight years journeying the country in search of a job.

Wilks is a walking stopgap to Oklahoma City’s injury-ravaged roster. Backup point guard Kevin Ollie will miss up to four weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee. Third-string point guard Shaun Livingston also is healing from knee surgery and might be sidelined at least another week. And Kyle Weaver, a natural shooting guard who can fill in as an emergency point guard, is on the shelf at least four months after surgery to repair damage to a dislocated shoulder.

All told, it creates an attractive opportunity for a player such as Wilks, the quintessential NBA journeyman. Wilks, 30, is now on his 11th team in seven seasons. In Oklahoma City, Wilks is that storybook character who was sitting at home before a pro franchise came calling for his services.

"I’m just thankful that they thought enough of me to bring me in,” Wilks said.

Wilks was as far away from NBA glamour as he could get when he got the call from the Thunder last week. The soft-spoken but affable Wilks was in Hartselle, Ala., a town just outside of Huntsville that the Milwaukee native has made home. Hartselle, with a population of just more than 12,000, is so small that the town’s cable provider doesn’t offer NBA League Pass. Wilks’ wife now has to go to her parents’ home in the nearby town of Hillsboro just to keep track of Wilks’ latest opportunity.

Wilks, who was the second-to-last cut from Atlanta’s training camp roster in October, was working out diligently in hopes that he would indeed get a call. On Monday, he could only laugh when relaying a conversation he had with Thunder coach Scott Brooks following a pick-and-roll drill, one that illustrated just how much has changed in a week’s time.

"I was like, ‘This feels a lot better than having to use chairs,’ ” said Wilks, remembering his individual workouts in a neighborhood gym all by his lonesome.

Talk with Wilks for five minutes and it becomes clear that he’s a man of strong spirituality. He described his journey as a "faith-walk,” one he wouldn’t have written for himself but a path he insists he "wouldn’t change for anything in the world.” It’s an almost shocking admission that speaks to Wilks’ humility considering his combined salary since breaking into the league in 2002 (roughly $5 million) is less than teammates Etan Thomas, Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic each will earn this season.