Trojan Nation Profiles – Keith Wilkinson


I am trying to start a new feature here at SoCal Sports Hub called “Trojan Nation Profiles,” where I interview individuals affiliated with the University of Southern California athletic department (i.e. players, coaches, staff members, bloggers, etc.). The gist of the series is to provide fans with a closer look at those who have been responsible for much of the success surrounding a university, which has compiled 87 NCAA titles in its history.

Our first edition goes to Keith Wilkinson, who was a member of the Trojans’ basketball team for the past four season. Wilkinson, a part-time starter and a reliable role player, was a part of the program’s most successful era in school history with three consecutive NCAA tournament bids and three consecutive 20-win seasons. We caught up with Keith to discuss his career at ‘SC, the Tim Floyd drama, and his future professionally in Europe and beyond. For those interested in keeping closer tabs on Keith, check out his personal web log, as he chronicles his experience in the Ukraine professional basketball league.

SCSH: Most people forget that you actually came to USC with a non-guaranteed scholarship. Basically, if I remember correctly, the scholarship was only guaranteed for one year and head coach Tim Floyd had the opportunity to either renew it or discontinue it after the season was over. What was that experience like?

KW: I did come in on a 1 year scholarship…but once I walked the campus and talked with Coach Floyd I knew I had to be a Trojan. I knew that if I came in and worked as hard as I could there is no way I wouldn’t get the scholarship renewed and luckily my risk paid off in a big way and I was blessed to have the best 4 years of my life as a Trojan.

SCSH: Playing at ‘SC for four season, you were a part of arguably the greatest run in the basketball program’s history with three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids, a run to the Sweet Sixteen, and a Pac-10 championship last season. Looking back on your career, what do you regard as the most memorable moment/game?

KW: I loved being a part of each and every team, because they were so unique in each way, but at the end of the day we were able to pull out wins. My favorite memory was hands down the Pac 10 tournament because although I only played 4 or 5 minutes, it was the most exciting game and with all that was on the line for it, I have never felt more joy as a player after winning the game. As far as my most memorable moment, it was when I was a sophomore and I hit a huge 3 to seal the victory versus Arizona who was ranked very high at that time. It was the next day too that Coach Floyd said not to worry about the 1 year scholarship and that I will be here the rest of my career no matter what.

SCSH: What in the world happened this past season? Towards the end of February, you guys lost three heartbreaking games in a row to Washington, Cal, and Stanford and seemed to be headed for the NIT. Then, suddenly, you swept the Oregon schools, won the Pac-10 tournament, and defeated Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament. What do you attribute as the reason for the mid-season turnaround?

KW: I think what happened was that Demar stepped up and begin playing like the star that he is going to be. He continually gained more and more confidence and got better and better with each game after somewhat of a slow start for all the expectations. We didn’t do anything different, we kept working, kept trying to get better, and our confidence grew and once Demar knew he could get almost whatever he wanted, we became a great team.

SCSH: But even though you guys were quite successful, there has to be a lot of missed opportunities over your four years that still bother you. During the Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina, you guys had the lead in the second half before Taj Gibson fouled out, and against Kansas State a year later, Michael Beasley and company embarrassed you guys in the first round of the tournament. Do you ever stay up late at night, wondering what could have been?

KW: Not so much that Kansas State game because they dominated us on both ends of the court, but I believe we had a final four quality team my sophomore year and still believe we could have beat anybody in the country and even had a shot at the National Championship game if Taj doesn’t get screwed on a few calls.

SCSH: You’re often remembered by USC fans as a guy, who could fill in and play any role needed. For example, during your junior season, you entered a conference game at home against Oregon and grabbed eleven rebounds to spark the team to a come-from-behind win. In the Pac-10 tournament semifinals against UCLA later in the year, you came off the bench to hit two big three pointers. What enabled you to play such a diverse role?

KW: I just think it was my will to win. I just like winning, don’t care how it gets done, as long as we left with a victory. And I obviously wanted to help my team earn that win, so if it meant hitting a few three pointers, grabbing some rebounds, taking a charge, diving on the floor, or just setting screens for OJ and Nick Young, I didn’t mind doing it because I knew that even if it didn’t show up in the stats, I was helping my team win.

SCSH: Especially, given the terms of his departure, Tim Floyd has been heavily criticized by the media and many USC fans. You were present for all four years of his tenure, what are your thoughts on Floyd’s character and the ongoing NCAA investigation?

KW: I love Coach Floyd. He is a great coach, a great motivator, and more importantly a great person. I give him all the credit in the world for turning the program around, and I am so happy I was there for his 4 year tenure because we came in together and left together. I wish he was still there because he is a great coach and did a great job, so for any fan who doesn’t support Coach Floyd obviously they don’t know much about basketball and the job that he did for the program and you cant trust everything you hear in the media so when people assume things without even knowing him as a man they are just foolish.

SCSH: Have you been keeping tabs on the program as of late? What are your thoughts on new head coach Kevin O’Neill and the current outlook for the upcoming season?

KW: I have talked to lots of the guys on the team. I hear Coach O’Neil is also an excellent coach and is really pushing the guys to work hard. I think once they get everyone eligible for the 2nd part of the season they will be a lot better than people think because they still have a lot of talent on the team. It will be interesting who steps up to fill the PG spot because I think that is the biggest piece of the team and I know we have guys fully capable; it will be interesting if they play like it.

SCSH: Okay, enough with the ‘SC talk. For those unaware, you signed a one-year contract with Cryvbasket of the Ukraine Basketball League in July. How do you like your new team?

KW: I really like my new team, it is weird when only 1 or 2 guys can speak English and it is a complete adjustment, but the level of basketball is much lower than SC so that has been a pleasant surprise and I have been able to do things I haven’t done since high school like take guys off the dribble and get to the basket easily.

SCSH: What is the biggest difference you have seen so far between the European brand of basketball and American hoops?

KW: The biggest difference is athleticism and shooting. In Europe the athleticism is nothing like the States, however, everyone and I mean everyone can shoot lights out. Not like how we used to play box in 1 or triangle in 2 and dare some guys like that to shoot from outside the key.

SCSH: What are future plans, basketball-wise and once your playing days are over?

KW: Once my playing days are over, I either want to be a Coach at the pro level, ESPN anchor, or a commentator because I love sports, especially football and basketball so I want to be around that my entire life.