Damien Wilkins waited two years for an NBA team to express interest in signing him.
So waiting an extra week in Charlotte while the Hornets completed a preseason trip to China didn’t seem like a big deal.
The Hornets contacted Wilkins’ agent shortly before leaving for Shenzhen and Shanghai. Wilkins was about to board a flight that would connect him to another flight to Venezuela. A team there had signed him. Ironically, he was in Charlotte Douglas Airport when he received the call from his agent to stay in the states.
But there wasn’t enough time to get Wilkins a visa to China.
“I was here training, getting familiar with the offense, getting acclimated,” said Wilkins, who officially signed Friday. “I got a lot of work in to make sure I was ready when they got back.”
Wilkins, 35, has played for five NBA franchises over a nine-season career. His last NBA gig was with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2013.
Since then he’s played for various teams overseas and had a stint last season in the NBA’s development league.
He’s well aware why the Hornets got in touch: small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had shoulder surgery that will likely end his season. The Hornets were looking around for a veteran who might shore up depth at that position.
“I’m not going to come in and try to be MKG. There is only one him – that’s why he makes the big bucks,” Wilkins said. “I’ve just got to be myself and provide some leadership and experience; make plays on both ends of the floor.”
Wilkins received an invitation over the summer to audition for the Team USA entry in the Pan American Games in Toronto. Some players his age might decline such an offer to rest up for the next season. Wilkins saw it as both an honor and a marketing platform.
“I can’t speak for how anyone else would feel about it, but to go there and wear a Team USA jersey was an amazing experience,” Wilkins said.
“I was able to further display what I’m capable of doing at a high level of basketball; for people to see that I’m still in shape and still able to play at a high level. They had representatives from Charlotte there and other teams were there. Maybe that was one of the reasons they said, ‘Hey, give him a call.’
“I’m about to get my jersey framed. To wear USA across your chest means everything.”
Wilkins knows he’s not the athlete he was early in his NBA career or when he played college ball for N.C. State and Georgia. But having played in so many different professional basketball systems, he thinks he has an edge mentally.
“The more you play, the more the game slows down for you. You’re not rushing things anymore. The game is easier (because) everything is about quick decisions,” Wilkins said.
“In the D-League they’re all young and lack experience. So the game seems like it’s moving at 200 mph. Whereas with me, I was more efficient. I’d see things before they happen because I’d seen them so many times before.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell