Wilson enjoys Wichita State

Online Poster

By Erik Hall

NORMAL, Ill. – Kyle Wilson sat on the Wichita State bench Thursday night with a big ear-to-ear smile, enjoying the final minutes. He and his teammates had come into Normal and beat Illinois State 76-62.

Wilson stood and clapped for every Wichita State point during the last two minutes. Between baskets, he joked with teammates.

He showed that basketball is fun again, something he struggled through at Illinois during the 2002-2003 season.

“I love the team. I love the guys. I love the coaches. I’m having a great time. It’s been a good fit for me,” Wilson said. “We’re first place in the (Missouri Valley Conference) right now and we’re looking to do some good things. I feel real good about it. Hopefully we can keep it up.”

Wilson, a sophomore, is having success in his first season of eligibility at Wichita State. NCAA rules required him to sit out last season after transferring from Illinois.

This season, he has already earned Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week twice and Newcomer of the Week twice.

He has started only one game this season, but as the team’s third leading scorer, he has helped the Shockers into first place. Wichita State is tied with Southern Illinois at 11-3 in the conference.

“He’s been great, and we knew he would be,” said Wichita State head coach Mark Turgeon. “We were lucky to get him. He’s happy, and he’s a big time player.”

But two seasons ago at Illinois, Wilson was not happy. During his freshman season, he played in 18 of Illinois’ 32 games and was on a team that finished second in the Big Ten and won the Big Ten Tournament.

His teammates could see Illinois was not right for Wilson.

“Kyle was more to himself than anybody on the team,” said Illinois guard Luther Head.

On Feb. 15, 2003, Wilson decided to temporarily leave the team. Wilson returned home to Plano, Texas, for about 10 days.

Illinois center Nick Smith roomed with Wilson during several of the team’s road trips that season.

“He had some major ‘being away from home’ issues, it seemed like,” Smith said. “When he kind of went AWOL for a while, I figured he probably wasn’t going to be around the next year.”

On April 16, 2003, Wilson announced he would be transferring to Wichita State.

“I know he was having some problems and everything – so sometimes change is good,” said Illinois assistant coach Wayne McClain. “I thought getting in the Kansas area might be a good situation for him.”

Wilson was born in Wichita, Kan., and still has relatives in the area. His new situation has helped Wilson thrive in the Missouri Valley.

Wichita State (18-4, 11-3) traveled to play a conference game Thursday at Illinois State (16-8, 8-6). The game was Wilson’s first in Illinois since leaving the Illini.

“It’s the first time I’ve been back this close in a long time,” Wilson said. “I was kind of excited for it. I knew that there were going to be people in the stands that had known me from Illinois. I wanted to come out and show that I’m doing fine and mainly just get a win.”

Wichita State got the win. Wilson scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and played 28 minutes. After building a cushy lead, he got to sit and joke with his teammates.

“We were excited to get this win, and we were messing around there at the end,” Wilson said. “There’s not one guy on the team that I butt heads with.”

If projections are right, Wilson and Wichita State could be having fun into March. ESPN.com projects Wichita State to reach the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed. Wichita State most recently advanced to the NCAA tournament in 1988.

“It’s exciting for us, but we’re not there yet,” Wilson said. “We still have quite a few games left. We’re looking forward to it and hopefully what they’re writing is going to be true.”

When the season ends, Wilson will have two more seasons of eligibility at his new home, Wichita State, where he hopes this season’s success will continue.

“Every year I’m just looking to win games and help this team win games,” Wilson said. “It’s been a long while since Wichita has seen good Shocker teams, and I’m just looking to help win games and hopefully win a couple championships in the meantime.”