Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Few students enjoyed their summer vacation more than Mwani Wilkinson.
As recently as March, the Bishop Gorman swingman was an afterthought in the 2020 recruiting class despite his size (6-foot-6) and above-the-rim athleticism. He was still waiting on his first college offer, and most recruiting services listed him as an unranked prospect.
Now, after a summer spent lighting it up on the AAU circuit with his Vegas Elite squad, Wilkinson is one of the hottest names left on the board. He has been upgraded to a 4-star recruit (No. 108 in the nation) and he’s in the process of choosing between his five college finalists: UNLV, Texas Tech, USC, LSU and Vanderbilt.
Wilkinson knew this meteoric rise was a possibility, but even he had to see it happen to believe it.
“This summer went really well,” Wilkinson said. “I heard from a lot of people in the spring that I would blow up. I had a confidence issue before AAU started this summer, so I didn’t know how to feel when all my coaches and trainers told me that. But it happened, and I realized all the work I put in really paid off.”
Wilkinson served as a defensive-minded role player on Gorman’s state-title winner last season, and he flashed on occasion, scoring 16 points in the Desert Region championship game and 18 in the Southern Nevada championship game.
Over the summer, he said he dedicated himself to expanding his offensive arsenal.
“Skill-wise, I put the ball on the floor this summer more than I ever have. I didn’t do it that much, but I did it enough to where I got comfortable with it gradually over time, and then it started to come with ease. Now I believe I’m good at it.
“Another thing was my mid-range jumper,” he continued. “It wasn’t like I didn’t have it in my skill set, but that was part of my confidence issue. I didn’t shoot a lot because I didn’t like to miss. I had to realize that when you miss, you have to keep shooting.”
At the most prestigious grassroots event of the summer, the Nike Peach Jam in Atlanta, Wilkinson posted 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Now he’s got so many suitors that he’s in the process of narrowing down his options. He trimmed his list to five last month, and he took an official visit to USC last weekend. Wilkinson said he plans to visit the four remaining schools before making his decision.
“I want to get a good feel for the coaches,” Wilkinson said. “I have good relationships with all of them, but I just want to see how it is being with them and being with the players. I want to see how the universities work, the education aspect. I want to see how my parents get along with the coaches, I want to see what the players do on their off-time. Things like that, just to get that feel.”
Wilkinson said there is currently no timeline for his decision, and the process could carry over into the high school basketball season.
Though all the dates aren’t set yet, Wilkinson said UNLV will be his final visit. The Rebels were the first school to offer him a scholarship, which came just two days after T.J. Otzelberger took over as head coach in March.
Since then, Wilkinson has grown close to Otzelberger and UNLV assistant Kevin Kruger.
“Coach T.J. was the first coach that offered me a scholarship, so obviously he believes in me and my ability a lot, and he always tells me that. He’s a really good dude and I’ve formed a good relationship with him. So have my parents. We really like T.J. Same thing with coach Kruger, he’s just a really good dude. If anything, I think I have the best relationship with them out of all the schools because I’ve been talking to them the longest. They’ve been really consistent with their recruiting, and that’s a great thing.”
Wilkinson is aware that Otzelberger has targeted the Las Vegas area as the foundation of UNLV’s 2020 recruiting class, and he said Rebels commits Nick Blake, Donovan Yap and Jhaylon Martinez have been reaching out to him.
“I definitely take notice of it,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve known them for a while, so to see them have the opportunity to play for the city they were raised in, I’m happy for them. I’ve talked to all of them. They all text me, telling me they’d love to play with me but that they know it’s my decision. I’m glad they’re all recruiting me, because that shows they care and they actually want to play with me.”