Gaston & Catawba

Freshman center stands tall for basketball team

If you’re more than 7 feet tall, you’re likely to stand out on any college campus.

Jake Wilson is 7-foot, 1-inch tall and a freshman on Lenoir-Rhyne’s basketball team. In Division II, Wilson stands especially tall – of the 12 teams in the South Atlantic Conference there isn’t another player who is 7 feet or taller who plays significant minutes.

Wilson has started all but one of the Bears’ first 12 games. While his numbers aren’t staggering – 6.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game – he is making an impact. Wilson is averaging 1.75 blocks per game, second in the league, and he is second on the team in rebounding.

“He’s getting better each day,” head coach John Lentz said. “He’s improved leaps and bounds since he arrived here.”

Wilson wasn’t highly recruited out of Raleigh’s Millbrook High School, and the Division I programs who recruited him wanted Wilson to do a year at prep school before they would offer him a scholarship.

“Coach Lentz told me I had a chance to play right away,” Wilson said. “I really wanted that chance, and I liked the coaching staff here, so it felt like the right fit.”

That fit became even better when Kevin Salvadori joined the staff as a volunteer assistant coach. Salvadori, also a 7-footer, was a center on the University of North Carolina’s 1993 NCAA championship team and played two seasons in the NBA for the Sacramento Kings.

“Kevin has been huge for the whole team, but especially for Jake,” Lentz said. “When you hear things come from somebody who has succeeded at such a high level, it tends to resonate more.”

Against Carson-Newman, Wilson put up 17 points and 10 rebounds, and against Lincoln Memorial, ranked fifth in the country at the time, Wilson had 10 points and seven rebounds. But he’s also had a handful of games where he has had foul trouble and forced to play limited minutes.

“That’s something the coaches have been on me for doing,” Wilson said. “When I pick up cheap fouls, that gets them upset, and they tell me they need me on the floor.”

Although the Bears record isn’t spectacular – 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the SAC with home games scheduled last week against Newberry and Anderson, the team has won two straight road games, and the top seven scorers on the roster consist of two juniors, a sophomore and four freshmen, including Wilson.

“The whole team is getting better daily, and that includes Jake,” said Lentz. “He works very hard and listens to everything he’s being taught. It’s kind of scary how good he can be when it all clicks.”