Photo by R.J. Meyer/NU Media Relations

Wilkinson Sharing Love of Basketball

By Brian Rosenthal

When injuries eventually forced Wes Wilkinson to retire from professional basketball after playing 10 years overseas, he returned to his home in Nebraska and took a break from the sport.

After a hiatus of 5-6 months, Wilkinson discovered he couldn’t live without basketball, in some way, shape or form.

“It was weird,” said Wilkinson, a Grand Island native who played at Nebraska from 2002-06 under former coach Barry Collier. “It was one of those things where I realized I needed to have basketball in my life. It was just a matter of what capacity.”

Wilkinson surprised himself when discovering his avenue would be training young players. It started with helping kids of friends and family, here and there, and organically grew into his business today, Wilkinson Hoops. He leads skill development sessions and shooting clinics, mostly in Omaha, but some nights in Lincoln.

“I didn’t think I would enjoy it, to tell you the truth,” Wilkinson said. “I didn’t think I’d have the patience. I never saw myself as somebody that would be a good instructor.”

Then Wilkinson discovered the satisfaction, the joy, of seeing young players learn some skill or intricacy of the game he’d been taking for granted for years and years.  

“Everything I’ve accumulated and I’ve known and my knowledge,” Wilkinson said, “it’s just one of those things, ‘Oh, you don’t know how to do this. You never were taught this.’ Once you teach them and they start picking it up and then actually seeing the kid like improve, that’s the part where I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, I like this a lot.’ ”

Building relationships has also been meaningful to Wilkinson. To him, basketball is, has been and always will be bigger than a game.

“I know it sounds corny, but it’s like an avenue toward life, for life experiences,” Wilkinson said. “You grow as a person in almost every aspect. Personally, I’ve benefitted from that in so many different ways. To be able to be a conduit and kind of share that and guide players down that road and use basketball as a tool, that’s something that I really enjoy doing.”

Wilkinson is fulfilling that goal in another capacity on Saturday, when he will host the first Wilkinson Hoops 3-on-3 Showcase in the Capitol District in Omaha. Registration for the event at closes on Thursday.

The idea for the event began when one of Wilkinson’s friends, who owns a restaurant in the Capitol District, reached out to him about creating some attraction to boost interest in the area.

“He said, ‘What do you think about running a 3-on-3 tournament?’ And really, that’s kind of where everything started,” Wilkinson said.

So Wilkinson reached out to some people, “and it kind of became a beast of its own. It’s really gained a lot of attraction,” he said.

What’s more, Wilkinson convinced FIBA to endorse the tournament, which means teams can earn points to play in a regional qualification tournament. That’s significant, given the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will include 3-on-3 basketball, and the United States will have a team.

“If people do know that, they probably don’t realize NBA players won’t be playing in that,” Wilkinson said. “So literally what that means is it's open to everybody. If you’re good, if you can play 3-on-3 basketball, you have a chance to make the Olympic team.

“Once it got endorsed by FIBA and people became familiar with the 3-on-3 landscape, it really propelled it into what it’s going to be.”

Wilkinson, who played for four different teams in Europe, played his final game at the end of the 2015 season but didn’t officially retire until 2017, when rehab from a torn ACL, followed by a torn calf muscle, factored heavily into his decision. He’s kept close tabs on Nebraska basketball, and although he’s never met first-year coach Fred Hoiberg, he’s excited about the direction of the program.

Mostly, he’s excited for what he knows is a hungry, passionate and deserving fan base.

“Oh, man, it’s an amazing time right now,” Wilkinson said. “Even from when I played, the fans are so passionate. They showed up for every game. They were always so encouraging. To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I chose Nebraska was because I knew our fans are not your typical kind of fans. Like, they are literally there through everything.

“I think it’s time. There’s a lot of pieces that are there – I think all of the pieces are there, to be honest with you, as far as the arena, the location, the fan base, the hunger from everybody in the state for a successful team. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited for everybody. The fan base, they’re going to get what they deserve, and that’s a lot of success in the future and for years to come, too.”

Reach Brian at or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.


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