At 39, Damien Wilkins Targets Return to NBA

By Tim Nash

He’s 39 years old playing against guys 12-15 years younger in a league designed for player development.

Why? That’s a question Damien Wilkins hears a lot, and he really doesn’t understand it.

“People always ask, ‘Why is he still playing?’ ‘Why is he in the G-League at his age?’” says Wilkins who is back in the G-League for his second stint with the Greensboro Swarm. “I say, ‘Why Not?’

“What’s better that finding a passion and chasing it and doing everything you can to reach your dream. You have to respect anyone who does that. If I see a street-sweeper who is dancing around and really loving being a street-sweeper, why would I question what he’s doing?”

Wilkins was re-signed by the Swarm on Feb. 1 after being waived by the Indiana Pacers. He was on the Pacers NBA roster for 39 games. He played in 19 games and started once.

Last year for the Swarm, he averaged 14.8 points and 5.3 rebounds and made a lasting impression on Swarm coach Noel Gillespie.

“Damien was always so level. He didn’t have highs and lows,” said Gillespie. “He was always just very focused on getting back to the NBA. He was the first in the gym and the last to leave. It’s great for the younger guys to see it.”

Before Wilkins returned, the Swarm defined a veteran as someone who had at least one previous season in the league. The current definition is someone who has played 582 NBA games. Gillespie says it’s invaluable, and Wilkins enjoys the role he plays.

“If you’re playing with a guy who has been where you want to be, you tend to emulate what they do and what they say,” Wilkins said. “I invest the time because the game has been good to me and I enjoy giving back.

“I work my butt off every day trying to get better and guys see that. When guys see me working every day, they say, ‘Well, maybe that’s what it takes.”

At 39, it would be understandable if Wilkins decided he had enough and moved on to the next phase of his life. He has, after all, played 14 seasons of professional basketball, 10 in the NBA, with stops in Venezuela, China and Puerto Rico.

But basketball is all he’s ever wanted to do. Wilkins’ father Gerald is a 13-year NBA veteran, and his uncle Dominque was a nine-time NBA all-star. Since 2004 when he was signed out of the University of Georgia by the Seattle Sonics, he’s done everything he can to remain a professional basketball player.

“I haven’t worked a day in my life, except when I was 15 I worked in a car wash,” laughs Wilkins. “This isn’t work for me. This is fun. I love this. What’s better than this?”

His latest stint in the NBA only reinforced Wilkins’ desire to return. He sees the G-League as the ideal place to lead to another shot.

“Now I want it more than ever,” he said. “As long as I can play against the guys in the G-League – as young as they are, as fast as they are and as hungry as they should be – playing in the NBA should be easy. They play much harder here. They go 100 miles an hour and they don’t know what they are doing half the time. If I can keep up with them at my age, I’m okay.”

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