On Saturday East Central University honored Durant Lions head basketball coach Jason Wilkerson by electing him into the ECU Hall of Fame, class of 2013.
Wilkerson had a great basketball career at ECU from 1999-2004. He posted great stats and broke a record that still stands today, and we will get to those stats later, because there is a story behind Wilkerson’s success. One of determination, hard work, discipline, character and a test of human will that was taught to him through his faith, family and life.
Wilkerson began his basketball career at Greenville High School in Texas. It’s about this time tragedy befell Wilkerson. It turned into a test of will and faith.
“I had an allergic reaction to a tetanus shot and it almost killed me. I was in the hospital for a long time and in a wheel chair for six months.” said Wilkerson.
The allergic reaction turn out to be Reiter’s syndrome. It’s a reactive arthritis, a form of arthritis that affects the joints, eyes, urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body), and skin.
The disease is recognized by various symptoms in different organs of the body that may or may not appear at the same time. It may come on quickly and severely or more slowly, with sudden remissions or recurrences.
“It all started in my pinky toe. I was two weeks out of the season and I was going to on be on the varsity team as a freshman. I told my dad that I thought I had broken my toe.” said Wilkerson, “We went to the doctor and he said it wasn’t broken. My toe swelled up and it was bigger than my thumb. Then it went from my feet to my ankles to my knees. It just kept working up.”
Wilkerson dealt with the syndrome for about 6 to 7 months coupled with high fever. “I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t sleep. My thumb swelled up, I couldn’t bend my arm. It even got into my eyes. I put on 30 pounds from the steroids they gave me for the pain.”
His determination and hard work got Wilkerson through the rough patch. By the last two or three games of the season Wilkerson walked back onto the court and got to play with his teammates. And that summer he began to work out and got back in shape. Then he became a starter his sophomore, junior and senior seasons and got a scholarship.
As a freshman in college he started every game and averaged 10 points. In sophomore year he average 14 points a game. Then into his junior year tragedy struck again.
“The summer of my junior year my grandmother, who was like my best friend, was on her death bed and she was about to pass away. And the doctors said that it may have triggered the Reiter’s syndrome again going into my junior year of college. So I was red shirted that year.”
This time the syndrome didn’t affect him as bad as before, but “It was different. It was bad enough to the point I couldn’t hardly walk, but I wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I couldn’t move. This time it was in my feet more that anything else.”
He never got to play that year, but the next year was a different story.
“After the season was over, I got back into the gym. I had to play through the pain basically. And that summer I worked at the tire plant in Ardmore and played basketball. That’s all I did.” said Wilkerson, “I was in a little bit of shape and I still couldn’t move well and my feet were always hurting.”
Still dealing with the pain, Wilkerson worked his way back into the line up during his red shirt junior year and he wasn’t expected to play at all, “The only thing I could take was Vioxx and Aleve for the pain. I took that my whole red shirt junior second year.” That was the same year Wilkerson led the conference in scoring and averaged 22 points a game.
“The rest was history from there. It was the year I met my wife. I was always trying impress her.” said Wilkerson.
From his trials, Wilkerson was aware that his troubles were really a blessing.
“It was special to me because I was able to overcome with God’s grace. He put that in my life both times as a humbling experience. To make sure how blessed I really was.” said Wilkerson.
In college there are myriad of temptations that can challenge a young man’s morals, “Sometimes in college you can get away from your up-bringing and what’s important. And when that happened to me it really opened my eyes to how special everything really is.” said Wilkerson. “Some will look at it as a negative, I look at it and turn it into a positive. It’s something God put on me and it built a lot of character in me. If it hadn’t happen to me, I don’t believe I would have achieved all that I have done.”
We always hear about how football prepares players for life. Well, so does basketball. “God gave me the opportunity to play the game that I love. The obstacles that came my way helped me and that’s why I love to do what I do now, and that’s coaching these young men. Because of the obstacles, the dedication, hard work that basketball taught me, it prepares you for life.”
With a strong faith in God, Wilkerson also was blessed with parents, David and Kay Wilkerson, who guided him through his high school years. His parents played a big role in his life.
“God gave me the opportunity to have parents like my mom and dad. They were extremely important in my up-bringing and gave me the ability to do what I was able to do on the basketball court. My mom was great and I still can’t beat my dad one-on-one.”
His dad is the one that opened the doors of basketball to a young Jason Wilkerson, “When I was 8 or 9 years old, dad came to me and said, ‘Son, when you’re ready to be the best basketball player around, you let me know and we’ll get to work.’ I thought about it for about 30 seconds and I said, I’m ready.”
And that’s where his basketball talents were developed, because of Dear Ol’ Dad. “My skill sets all came from him.” said Wilkerson.
Now with a Hall of Fame career at ECU, Wilkerson looked back at his teammates and coaches with great fondness. “You know, nothing is possible in basketball without your coach and great teammates. It’s a great honor to go in the Hall of Fame, I owe everything to my teammates. There were no egos, we all had the same goal, to win.” said Wilkerson, “I played with a lot of great ball players. We would push each other. My freshman year at ECU, I practiced against my best friend and we were both starters, but we would go at it tooth and nail. Coach (Wayne Cobb) would never let us play together in practice, always against one another. But that made me a better player, because coach made you fight for it.”
But Wilkerson knows where the true credit should go for all he has accomplished.
“As much as basketball has done for me, it all starts with God.”
In high school Wilkerson was named 1st team conferance, 2nd team conference, 1st All State, 2nd All State. In his senior year he was the 3rd leading scorer in Texas and 3rd team All American.
At ECU, Wilkerson was a member of the men’s basketball team from 1999-2004 and played for ECU Hall of Fame Coach Wayne Cobb. Wilkerson started all but one game in his career and left the Tigers ranked second in the ECU record books for three-pointers made in a career (213), fourth in scoring (1,641 points) and fourth in rebounding (768). He also has the top spot for the most three-pointers made in a single game (9).