By Marc Pruitt
There was a time when Isaiah “Chico” Wilkins wasn’t sure how basketball would fit in his life.
There was never a time when he didn’t know how much of a role his faith has played in his success.
“Without faith, nothing is possible,” Wilkins said. “I pray to God every night. My dad and I say a prayer together every morning before I get out of the car at school. God has opened so many doors for me. And I know his plan for me isn’t finished yet.”
Wilkins’ father, Melvin Watkins, is the founder and minister at New Generation Praise and Worship International Ministries. His mother, Sharessa, is the assistant minister.
“My dad is my role model,” Wilkins said. “I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by all kinds of support from my family and from the teachers and coaches at Mount Tabor.”
Wilkins exploded onto the scene as a sophomore for the Spartans, finishing the season in the starting lineup and as a member of the all-conference team in the Central Piedmont 4-A That was also the year he got his nickname.
“I was in Spanish class and our teacher was calling all the boys ‘chico’ and all the girls ‘chica”,” Wilkins said. “Not a lot to it other than that. It just kind of stuck for me because everyone started calling me that.”
As a junior, Wilkins averaged nearly 21 points per game and seven rebounds and won the Frank Spencer Award as the top player in Northwestern North Carolina.
This season, Coach Andy Muse said that Wilkins has learned how to be the man of the team by becoming more vocal and demonstrating leadership.
“He’s done a much better job of communicating and getting our guys in the right spots this season,” Muse said. “He knows all of our offenses for every spot on the floor. And that’s something we needed from him as a captain and because he’s a senior. Everyone respects him and loves being around him. He’s so unselfish—sometimes too unselfish. He sets an example by the way he plays.”
Wilkins wasn’t always convinced his game would get to the level it is on now. He’s being recruited by Presbyterian, Wofford, College of Charleston, and Murray State. Four years ago, he wasn’t sure basketball would be part of his future.
“I was a 5-9 chubby kid playing freshman basketball,” Wilkins said. “My grades were slipping because I wasn’t taking my education seriously. I dug myself a pretty deep hole.”
Wilkins hit a growth spurt after his freshman year and was 6-2 to start his sophomore season. That’s when he said things started to click. He started going to a trainer, Richard Daniels Sr., at the Fulton YMCA to work on his athletic development. Daniels’ son, Richard Jr., helped Wilkins’ develop on the court.
“That’s when I felt like I really started to elevate my game,” Wilkins said. “I still had some anxiety about my academics, though.”
Wilkins, who has added two inches to his frame and stands 6-4, admitted that the first semester of his senior year was challenging. He was facing the possibility of not being eligible if his grades did not improve.
“Honestly, it was stressful,” Wilkins said. “I knew I could do it. It was just me putting the time into it, asking for help when I needed it, staying after school when I needed to. Any help I could get, I was going to get it. I wasn’t going to ruin my senior year. I know what I’m capable of. Basketball has always been my way to push everything else aside. I knew how important it was to help me focus on what I needed to do in the classroom.”
And since things worked out in the classroom, “Chico” is able to excel on the court.
Wilkins scored his 1000th career point this season in a game against West Forsyth, accomplishing one of the goals he set for himself this season.
“There aren’t a lot of players who do that during their career,” Wilkins said. “It was a great moment for me and all those who have helped me get to this point.”
For all Wilkins brings to the Spartans on the court, Muse said that he is just as important to the team off of it.
“He’s a fun-loving, great person to be around,” Muse said. “He knows when to be serious and he knows when he can joke around. He keeps us upbeat and keeps things light in the locker room. That’s huge for us. He comes from a family of great people with great integrity. They all know that God has a special plan for his life. It just hasn’t been fully revealed yet.”