Wilkerson to walk-on men's basketball team
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Taking a risk to play basketball is nothing new for Keron Wilkerson.
As a young teenager growing up in south-central Los Angeles, he had to walk past members of the infamous "Bloods" gang every day just to play pick-up hoops at the neighborhood park.
By comparison, traveling more than 2,000 miles to walk-on to the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team would seem easy.
"I know I'm taking a big chance," said Wilkerson, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound shooting guard. "But basketball is like my savior. I just want to show that I can play."
Because UH has already awarded the NCAA maximum of five scholarships this summer, Wilkerson will have to walk-on with the team.
He leads a group of nonscholarship players Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace says is "proba-bly the best walk-on bunch we've ever had." NCAA rules prohibit Wallace from commenting on specific walk-on players until practice officially begins in mid-October.
Wilkerson averaged a team-high 18.3 points per game at Oxnard College (Calif.) last season. He ranked third in the Western State Conference with a .429 percentage from 3-point range (45-for-105). He will have two years of eligibility at UH.
"He's a steal as a walk-on," said Oxnard assistant coach Jeff Theiler. "He runs the floor, he can jump, he can shoot, and he has a knack for getting the ball in the basket. In my opinion, he won't just make (the team), he'll end up playing."
Wilkerson was offered a scholarship by Tulsa out of North Hollywood High in 1998, but never achieved the qualifying SAT scores. Instead, he played junior college basketball at Odessa (Texas) for one year before transferring closer to home.
Last year at Oxnard, Wilkerson maintained a 3.5 grade point average. An academic scholarship is helping pay for his UH tuition. "I've done the right things that I wasn't doing in high school as far as academics," he said.
Wilkerson was recruited by Colorado State, Albany and Florida A&M over the summer, but each gave him a "wait-and-see" approach.
"He kind of got strung along all summer," Theiler said. "And that hurt his chances with other schools."
As Wilkerson put it: "That's my motivation right there. I feel like I have something to prove to the other colleges and to myself and my family."
Other players expected to walk-on at UH are 6-foot-10 Joshua Stanhiser and 6-6 Dan Pickart. Stanhiser, who is also considering volleyball, last played at Columbia University College in Maryland two years ago. He recently participated in Hawai'i's NCAA Summer League.
Pickart, who is the nephew of former UH football player Kent Untermann, was an all-league forward at Novato High in Northern California last season.
"I didn't want to go the (junior college) route," said Pickart. "I wanted to go to a place where I could develop over four or five years. And because of my uncle, I've always been a Hawai'i fan."
Three walk-ons from last season are also expected to try out again: Lance Takaki, Ryne Holliday and Brandan Ross. A fourth, Kimo Keiter-Charles, transferred to UH-Hilo.
No word: Wallace said he is still awaiting a ruling from the NCAA on the eligibility of four of UH's European players Predrag Savovic, Bosko Radovic, Mindaugas Burneika and LucArthur Vebobe.
UH officials mailed paper work on the basketball histories of all four players to the NCAA earlier this month. Officials from the NCAA indicated that each case will be treated individually, although a deadline for rulings has not been set.
Arrivederci: Former UH forward Troy Ostler was released by Verona of Italy's Division I professional league yesterday.
"They think he needs a little more experience to work on his strength and defense," said agent Ben Pensack. "But they liked him enough to suggest that he try the second division league there."
Pensack is negotiating to get Ostler a tryout with a team from Italy's Division II league.
Excused absence: Classes at UH started on Monday, but senior forward Mindaugas Burneika has yet to arrive on the Manoa campus.
He and former Rainbow Nerijus Puida are playing for Lithuania in the World University Games in Beijing this week. Lithuania is not in contention for a medal, but could place as high as fifth when the tournament is completed this weekend.