NORMAL — John Wilkins spent last Sunday at his father’s home in Gary, Ind. However, his heart was elsewhere.
Wilkins was thinking about his Illinois State basketball teammates. The Redbirds played their first road game that day and came away with a 63-54 loss to Arkansas-Little Rock.
It was the third in Wilkins’ five-game NCAA suspension for playing in a Belgium professional league when he was 16 years old. As part of his suspension Wilkins, who was born in France and is called “Frenchy” by his coaches and teammates, could not travel with the Redbirds to Arkansas.
Wilkins becomes eligible this Sunday when ISU entertains Jacksonville State at 3:35 p.m. in the final game of the three-day Global Sports Roundball Classic at Redbird Arena.
“It’s been kind of difficult because I want to go out there and help,” the 6-foot-10 sophomore forward said earlier this week at practice.
Wilkins doesn’t think he’ll be rusty. He was able to participate in a scrimmage against Western Illinois and scored nine points in a Nov. 10 exhibition game against Quincy, sinking 3-of-4 attempts from 3-point range.
Compared to the almost two years of not playing in a game while the NCAA and National Junior College Athletic Association decided his transcripts and eligibility, the last 2½ weeks has been relatively easy for Wilkins.
“I’ve been practicing. I’m getting my reps in and trying to be in a rhythm,” he said. “I have a feel for the game because I played against Western Illinois and Quincy.”
ISU coach Tim Jankovich expects Wilkins “to be the most energetic guy in the gym hopefully” on Sunday. How many minutes Wilkins will play is not known.
Wilkins originally was targeted to be a wing player because of his lanky 225-pound build and shooting ability. However, ISU has used him mostly at the No. 4 (power forward) spot in practice and against Quincy.
“A lot of things we do, the parts (offensively) are interchangeable anyway,” said Jankovich. “It becomes more about who he defends than what position he plays. Our concern, in terms of positioning, is always in regards to matchups and who you guard on the other team.”
Wilkins figures to have an advantage offensively against a bigger, slower opposing player who might have trouble covering him outside the arc.
“He’s going to give us a lot of positive things,” said ISU sophomore forward Jackie Carmichael. “He’s going to take pressure off the guards and me and the other bigs. When you see a 6-10 wing man you have to draw up a game plan for him. He’s definitely going to draw some attention.”
The Redbirds (2-1) face South Dakota on Friday and Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, with both games at 6:05 p.m.
Global Sports Classic
ISU vs. South Dakota 6:05 p.m. Friday
ISU vs. La.-Monroe 6:05 p.m. Saturday
ISU vs. Jacksonville St. 3:35 p.m. Sunday