D.J. Wilson once suffered stress fractures in his lower back because he wouldn’t stop working out.
He would not ease up, or, as his buddies might suggest: Chill.
Wilson would lift weights and condition to the point he ached to the touch before classes at Capital Christian High School. Then he would lead the charge in rigorous basketball practices as the Cougars’ leading man and fast-rising recruit.
“After a two-and-a-half hour practice, we’d all be leaving to go home, and there’s D.J. putting on a new pair of shoes to work out again, and that’s the sort of workaholic he is, and wow, did it pay off,” said Devon Jones on Saturday afternoon.
Jones coached Wilson from fifth grade through high school, and then watched with glee as his pupil became the area’s first product to accept a hoops scholarship to Michigan. He watched with more pride as Wilson flourished this season, all arms and legs, potential and results at 6-foot-10. And the joy spilled over on Thursday night in a suite at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento when that work did indeed pay off.
Wilson was selected 17th overall in the NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was invited to attend draft festivities at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but elected to surround himself with family and friends – 17 total – at the Sheraton.
“D.J. definitely plays it cool, and he’s very humble,” Jones said. “ESPN wanted to be at the hotel, and we wanted The Bee there, but he wanted to just to be low key, and he wanted to be in a room by himself (with his mother, grandmother and godfather) when the selection happened, and we respected that.”
But as soon as Wilson emerged after fielding a call from Bucks coach Jason Kidd, he was engulfed.
“We went bonkers when his name was called, and then everyone was crying, and he was all smiles, ear-to-ear,” Jones said.
Among the crying was Taniya Ballard. She raised Wilson as a single mother. She kept on him about his education, and then wondered if her son would get enough sleep after he would spend half the night studying. Wilson walked a quarter mile every day to school, attending Capital Christian from fifth grade on.
But there was a lot of anxiety before Thursday’s joy.
After using a medical redshirt to heal his left knee in 2014-15, Wilson was in and out of the Wolverines lineup in 2015-16. He hit his groove this winter, averaging 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds, and played his best games in the Big Ten Conference tournament, hitting 3-pointers and using his 7-3 wingspan to block shots.
Then, another stall. At the NBA scouting combine in Chicago, Wilson suffered a quad injury. He couldn’t participate in five-on-five drills or much of any individual workouts. And of the 86 players the Bucks brought in for workouts, Wilson was not one of them.
“For a while there, there were a lot of mixed emotions,” Jones said. “There was talk that he might not get drafted, or he might go in the second round. It was a gamble, to come out early. Yet his stock kept going up, an amazing ordeal. The curiosity and his physical characteristics – how long he is, his skill set, his high character – it helped him.”
Said Bucks general manager Jon Horst to Milwaukee media, “D.J. has been at the top of our list for a long time. He’s been there steadily. We were excited and happy with the (draft) result.”
What intrigued the Bucks, Horst said, is Wilson’s ability to play different positions: “When we looked at D.J., we saw a player that we felt could play (power forward) and maybe some days he could play (center). He has the offensive skillset to play (small forward), so we really see a lot of positional versatility with D.J.”
Wilson must rebound better, his new bosses said, with Kidd joking, “He fits. We don’t rebound the ball. The things that he brings – blocking shots, being able to be 6-10, use your length – that’s our DNA.”
Wilson will be introduced to the Milwaukee media on Sunday. Jones, his wife Shana and a crew of others will tune in.
“Everyone who is really close to him is still a little shocked,” Jones said. “It definitely seemed to sneak up on us. The success happened so quickly, from barely playing at Michigan to exploding a quarter of the way through this season.
“We’re all proud. His mom is a testament to his success. She’s that mom who’s done everything for her son, getting him to school, never missing a game. I saw his potential when he was in grade school. He was crazy long and gangly, but athletic. He grew 4 inches before his junior year and kept working, sometimes too much so. And he’ll keep working. That’s what he does.”