D.J. Wilkins might not be cast in the next Marvel movie, but he’s definitely the real-life “Ironman.”
The Merrillville product and Drake shooting guard has started 112 straight games for the Missouri Valley Conference school.
“I think it comes down to how well I take care of my body, and the guys appreciate the fact I can fill in for them at any spot when my name is called,” Wilkins said. “I’ve never been a selfish player. I’ll do anything and play any position. I know for us to be successful I might have to change up my role.”
Wilkins has been as consistent as they come when it comes to both availability and true ability. He’s averaging 9.4 points a game and leads the team in assists. He does a little bit of everything for the Bulldogs, who are 11-5 on the season, including a perfect 9-0 at home.
Wilkins, a shooting guard by trade, was moved to point guard when fellow Region native Roman Penn (Bishop Noll) went down with a recent foot injury. It’s a credit to his selflessness and versatility for picking up the slack and running the show for those seven games.
“It’s mentally tough playing point, because Coach (Darian DeVries) gets on you a little more. You have to be sharper in practice and in the games,” Wilkins said. “I wasn’t used to getting that criticism every day like Roman was. But it was a good adjustment and learning experience for me. It’s shown me how critical the little things are and how to be tougher mentally. You have to take some of the fault (as the point guard) and make the changes for the better of the team.”
Wilkins earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing this past December and plans to start on his master’s degree in brand communications in February. He’s thrilled to be able to compete with Penn, fellow Merrillville grad Jonah Jackson, Griffith’s Tremell Murphy, and Michigan City’s ShanQuan Hemphill on a loaded Region team.
“I love the Region guys; you essentially come to work every day with the guys you knew your whole life,” Wilkins said. “We’re able to get on each other, but also know you still have love for them on and off the court.
“Not a lot of guys get the opportunity that we have here, to play Division I basketball and to advance to the NCAA Tournament and play in some incredible arenas. You see programs have new faces year in and year out, but here the opportunity has been a blessing and the success we have had has been incredible.”
Wilkins started all 31 games last season, averaging 10.1 points and 2.1 assists a contest as the Bulldogs made their first NCAA appearance since 2008 and won the program’s first NCAA game in 50 years. As a sophomore, he started 34 games and averaged 8.9 points and 2.1 assists per game. He also has another year of eligibility with the Bulldogs and plans to take advantage of it.
“The journey has been great here,” Wilkins said. “Getting an education and the experience of playing Division I basketball has been quite the opportunity.
“I’m motivated because I’ve seen how far I’ve come and how far I can go. I’m just excited about the future and it makes me keep pushing.”
• Olivet Nazarene’s Tyler Schmidt (Victory Christian) poured in a game-high 35 points, shooting 15-of-19 from the field, in a 93-68 victory over St. Francis (Il.) on Jan. 5.
Wabash 125-pounder Carlos Champagne (Griffith native/Marian Catholic) went 3-1 over the weekend as the Little Giants finished second overall at the NWCA National Duals in Louisville.
• Michigan 141-pounder Stevan Micic (Hanover Central), competed in his first match this season, earning a win for the No. 3 Wolverines over No. 6 Arizona State.
It was Micic’s first collegiate appearance since the 2019 NCAA Championships. Micic earned an 8-6 decision over Julian Chlebove.
• Indiana’s Kasper McIntosh (Portage) edged Rutgers’ Jake Benner 3-2 at 165 in a dual meet loss on Jan. 7. Teammate D.J. Washington (Portage) lost just his second match of the season at 184 pounds in a 4-2 decision to No. 5 John Poznanzski. Washington leads the Hoosiers with a 10-2 record.
Toledo’s Hannah Noveroske (Michigan City), getting her second straight start, scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds, and added three blocks in a 64-48 victory over Eastern Michigan in MAC play.
Dh’mari Wright (Andrean) announced on social media he received a full-ride scholarship to the University of Findlay, a Division II school.
Wright, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end, finished his career with 118 tackles, including 19 for loss, four sacks, two blocks field goals, and a safety.