Saturday, October 9, 2010

American LDS Basketball Player Gary Wilkinson Makes His Mark For The New Zealand Breakers Of The Australasian National Basketball League (ANBL)

On October 10th, 2010, published a story about an American import, Gary Wilkinson, who is attempting to make his mark in pro basketball in New Zealand. He currently plays for the New Zealand Breakers of the Australasian National Basketball League (ANBL) and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wilkinson previously played two years for the Utah State Aggies, averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and leading the Aggies to the WAC title both years.

However, the New Zealand media story also focuses on how Wilkinson re-discovered the LDS Church. Not long ago, his life was unravelling to such an extent that some seriously bad things were lurking just round the corner. He was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore for attitude problems and a year later dropped out of Bingham High School altogether when he found himself in a self-destructive spiral of drugs, alcohol and all-night partying.

But it was the suicide of a close friend that served as the catalyst for him to start looking beyond himself and question where his life was headed. Shortly thereafter, he re-discovered the LDS Church; although his parents are Mormon, Wilkinson was not baptized when he turned eight, and avoided any association with the Church during his teenage years. After being baptized, Wilkinson embarked on a two-year mission to Calgary, Alberta, then returned to Utah and got himself into college. And, out of necessity, he rediscovered his love of basketball. But Wilkinson credits his faith for getting him on the right pathway and then basketball for giving him a new purpose in life. "Initially, basketball was just a way to pay for school," he said. "My academics have always been important to me after my mission and I've stayed true to that. But basketball has become a huge part of my life. Right now, it's what I'm trying to be successful at."

Surprisingly, Gary Wilkinson did not get picked in the NBA draft. Although Wilkinson played in the Utah Jazz 2009 Summer League, the Jazz did not sign him. So he went outside the United States. After pro basketball stints in Korea and Greece, Wilkinson surfaced in New Zealand, where he's already playing well for the Breakers. At a recent pre-season tournament in Darwin, Australia, Wilkinson averaged 22.6 points and five boards a game, shot the ball efficiently (25/38 FG) and was rock-solid from both the three-point (eight-of-12) and free-throw (10/10) line. Coach Andrej Lemanis characterizes Wilkinson as a smart player who understands the game, shoots the ball very well and is a good guy to work with. Wilkinson and his wife Jessica look forward to the experience.

The ANBL has nine franchises, eight of them in Australia. The New Zealand Breakers are the only New Zealand franchise, playing their home games in Auckland on North Island.

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