Updated: Jul 31, 2020
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present LSU commit Mwani Wilkinson, from Las Vegas, Nevada:
Pro Insight: Talk a little about your background...are you originally from Vegas?
Mwani Wilkinson: Yeah, I’m from Vegas, I was born here. My mom and dad, same thing with them — my dad was born here, he was kind of from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, too because that’s where his family is from. I have two brothers and they’re a lot older than me so it’s almost like I’m an only child. They weren’t really home all that much because my oldest brother went to college when I was four years old and my other brother left for college when I was eight years old. I only feel like an only child in the setting of my home, but they’re good dudes [Mwani’s brothers], they care about me, they really think I’m special so they just motivate me to make sure I keep going.
PI: Did any of your family play collegiate or pro sports?
MW: Yeah so the thing is, even though they’re older than me, one is 5’10” and the other is 5’11,” so they weren’t really even close to as tall as me, I don’t know why….they tell me that I was adopted and stuff [laughs]. They played football, both at Bishop Gorman, they played college as well. The oldest played defensive back at Colorado State and the other played defensive tackle at Northern Arizona. My mom played softball. I don’t even know if that was one year or not, I just saw it in her yearbook. My dad played basketball at Clark here in Vegas.
PI: Did you also play football?
MW: Yeah, even though I finished playing football my freshman year, I think I still played football longer than I’ve been playing basketball. Football was my first sport. I didn’t start playing basketball seriously until the 7th grade. I played basketball in 2nd and 5th grade, but 2nd grade it wasn’t anything serious and I didn’t go back to it until my 5th grade year, and 5th grade was just a bad experience for me and it caused me to stop playing again. So I really didn’t start taking it seriously until 7th grade.
PI: What position did you play in football? What made you switch from football to basketball?
MW: Growing up I played running back, but I started going through growth spurts and in 7th grade I moved to tight end and defensive end and I played that up through my freshman year. I didn’t really find joy in football, anymore. I’m not saying I’m not a good basketball player or nothing, but I know for a fact that I could be a much better football player than basketball player, but I just didn’t find the joy in it anymore. I got talking to my brothers and my parents and it made me realize that if I’m not like playing it at 100% then I shouldn’t be playing it at all because that’s just risking my body, risking myself getting hurt. So I decided to play basketball, and even then I wasn’t really all that good at basketball, I wasn’t getting any college offers or anything like that...so to switch like that was, I don’t know the word, it was weird.
PI: Describe your game – what are your greatest strengths and biggest areas for improvement? What’s the most underrated aspect of your game?
MW: I think one of my greatest strengths is defense; I have a lot of passion for defense. I wouldn’t really consider it a strength, but one of my advantages is my athleticism. Another strength would be my versatility. I would say I need to improve my dribbling, getting more range on my shot...I think I have a pretty good mid-range shot. Actually I don’t know if it’s the range or what, but I have to work on getting all my shots the same because my pull-up shot is completely different than my catch-and-shoot shot. It messes with me a lot because my pull-up shot is a lot better. So I need to work on getting those two the same. In terms of underrated, I don’t know if it’s overlooked, but I think I’m a pretty good passer. My dad thinks so too, he always tells me.
PI: When did things start picking up for you in terms of getting interest from schools? Do you consider yourself a late-bloomer?
MW: Yeah I definitely started getting more on the radar this season because I improved a lot. So the section 7 tournament in Arizona last June is when I really caught a lot of people's attention. From then up until the beginning of the season, even from that time I proved a lot. I think after I got first team in the Tarkanian Classic [in December] and after I got first team in the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon that’s when I really started to catch a lot of people's eyes. I was picking up stuff last season, but it wasn’t anything major. Over the summer and going into fall I started to get my confidence up and that was one of the things really holding me back. So once I got a hold of that — and it’s still something that I have to improve — but once I really got a hold of that, that’s when things really got going for me.
PI: What are some of the things your trainer has been able to help you with?
MW: The main thing that he wanted for me was to be as simple as possible while being the highest level of efficiency that I could be. So we really just work on pull-ups, like one step pull-ups, dribble pull-ups. We work on my dribbling, like a lot of crossovers and backing the ball up. We work on a lot of post moves because with my size I have an advantage over other guards...I think I’ll be posting up a lot. One thing that we’ve been working on a lot, and once I start getting back to physical activity [recovering from pneumonia] I want to continue to fix is my shot. Like I said earlier, it’s something that’s been messing with me a lot because I notice when I’m catch and shooting a lot I don’t have the same form over and over and over again. So that’s not good because it sets bad habits. Working on set shots from the 3PT line.
PI: Out of all the guys you’ve matched up with, who are some of the toughest matchups you’ve faced in AAU and in high school?
MW: In AAU we played Cade Cunningham...he’s not like a scorer scorer, but he just makes everybody on his team better. Like we were trying to contain him by trapping him and stuff, but it was so hard. He’s pretty good. Same thing with Daishen Nix from Vegas...he’s a good PG. He’s not really a scorer like that either, he’ll just score at will, but he’s like a real PG, too. We played him a lot because he’s from Vegas. At Gorman we like to speed people up and it’s like impossible to speed him up.
PI: What are your long and short term goals?
MW: Short term for LSU is I want to contribute to helping the team win...eventually I hope we’re able to get into the NCAA tournament and do good things there. I just want to get better as a player, teammate, and leader. Long term I want to make it to the NBA. Well I don’t want to just make it to the NBA, I want to make it and stay there and as I get older to make enough money to take care of my immediate family.
PI: Do you feel like you accomplished all of your high school goals or is there anything you wish you won?
MW: As far as AAU, we really could have won Peach Jam, but some things happened and we weren’t able to win, but we still played really good. High school, I wish we could have won the Tarkanian Classic — we lost to Corona Centennial, they were a pretty good team and they played a lot better than us in that game. So they definitely deserved to win that championship, but we had a ‘2-peat’ going and we could have had a 3-peat, and it was our home gym so that’s one loss that I wish we could have back.
PI: Why do you wear number #23? Is there a story behind that?
MW: Umm not really. I wore #32 when I first started playing and then Gorman didn’t have that, so I wore #24. My junior year on varsity there was a senior with #24 so I chose #23.
PI: What was the recruiting process like — what were you looking for in a school and why was LSU the right fit in the end?
MW: I really liked all the coaches that recruited me. They're good dudes, and that wasn’t really a problem with any of the schools. In a school I was looking for a good relationship with the coaches and good relationships with the players when I went on my visits. I watched a lot of the teams play just to see how they play, like the style of play and if I liked it and to see how I would best fit into it. I also looked into all the areas and environments...areas as in like could I live there for four years and environments as in the student life and things like that. One thing that stood out at LSU was the family that I have out there...it’s a lot of family and I know I’ll be taken care of when I go out there if I need anything.
PI: How do you feel your game fits within LSU’s style of play?
MW: I like a more fast-paced game. I like to play defense, run, and get dunks and stuff. I don’t know if it was something that stood out with me this season, but last season I got a lot of offensive rebounds. I don’t know if that’s something people notice about me, but watching LSU play they get to the rim and they get a lot of offensive rebounds so I think that’s something that I’ll fit perfectly into considering my athleticism.
PI: LSU has a good class coming in with Cam Thomas, Jalen Cook, Bradley Ezewiro, etc. How excited are you to play with them? Did they help recruit you or did you help recruit any of them? Are you recruiting anybody else?
MW: Well a lot of the commits committed before I did. Bradley was the one who really wanted me to come so I talked to him a lot during my process. Before he recruited me we were already cool with each other because we’re west coast kids. In terms of recruiting, I haven’t really texted anybody, I don’t really have anybody in mind. I haven’t checked to see who LSU has offered and all that.
PI: Do you watch more college or NBA basketball? What are you looking for and what are your biggest takeaways when you watch?
MW: I think I watch more college than NBA, but one thing I see from watching pros is for example, Kawhi Leonard, the effectiveness that he has from his simplicity on offense and his defensive intensity is something that stands out to me. That’s something that I think I do in high school.
PI: College or pro, current or former player – do you model your game after anyone?
MW: Not really, but Paul George is my favorite player.
PI: Which position do you view yourself as?
MW: I personally classify myself as positionless, but if I have to choose a position to play I would play SG and that’s why I am working on improving my dribbling.
PI: Please explain what Mwani Wilkinson brings to a team, regardless of the situation – name some things on the court and some things off the court.
MW: I think on the court I bring energy to a team and energy can kind of go a long way, you can really feed off of it in certain ways. Off the court I think I’m a funny person...not like intentionally funny, but I think I bring a lot of humor to a team.
PI: How would you describe yourself off the court? What are some things you do with your free time?
MW: I’m pretty cool off the court and stuff like that, but this year at Gorman with me being a senior and one of the leaders of the team it helped me realize that I can’t just be like a nice guy...I have to get into people and I have had to do that a couple of times so now it’s not really a problem for me so if I see something I’m not just going to look at it and say nothing about it, I’m going to say something to you. Besides that I’m pretty cool, I don’t really do nothing, but play video games. I suck at Fortnite. I play sports video games: Madden, NBA 2K, UFC, etc.
PI: If you could play any other sport professionally, what sport would you play?
MW: Baseball, that’s the money right there. But, my dad just whispered to me “but you’re good at football too.” So Bryce Harper, he’s from Vegas and I see the amount of money he’s making and it’s crazy because the high school he went to is the high school that I’m zoned for and his grandpa lives right behind us. It’s weird, but motivating, he’s not really somebody I’m close to, but I know he’s from where I’m from and it pushes me to make it.
PI: What has been a defining moment or story in your life? Why has that stuck with you and what did you learn from it?
MW: I’ll give you a compact version of this story, but basically my junior year I was on the bench and I didn’t really play that much and as the season started going on I started playing more and more. Then in the playoffs my team really needed me and I stepped up and it helped set the foundation of the run I went on until now. What I learned from that is to not give up even if things aren’t going your way because if you do everything in your power to do the best you can in your situation it will be good for you. Now you see a lot of people transferring high schools and AAU teams because they’re not playing, but you never really know what can happen, like God forbid anybody gets hurt, but maybe somebody gets hurt and that’ll be the time for you to step up. It helps build character.
PI: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
MW: Get on my knees and pray. That’s what my parents tell me.
PI: What, or who, would you say is your biggest motivation in life?
MW: I think both my parents, because my dad he’s self-employed and he owns his barber shop and he doesn’t really do everything on his own, but he’s one of the main reasons why his barber shop has been able to be so successful for 25 years. My mom, she sacrifices a lot, and she’s been doing it since 1988 for my brothers and we’re not like lazy kids, we do a lot of things, not just like sports, but we’re not like the easiest kids to raise. Another thing is they sacrificed a lot for me and my brothers to go to the school we went to [Bishop Gorman].
PI: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
MW: I’ll be 28 years old, I’d say the NBA. I haven’t really thought about that [type of player in the NBA], but right now, whatever the organization asks me to be, but I mean that could possibly change within the next few years.
PI: At the end of the day, what do you want to be remembered for?
MW: I want to be remembered for the kind of person I am. You can’t play basketball your whole life. I think I really started doing this, but I want to touch people so that they see me as more than a basketball player.