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Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014

C.J. Wilcox believes his basketball path will help his transition to the NBA

By Brandon Judd, Deseret News

Published: Fri, June 27 4:27 p.m. MDT

 Washington's C.J. Wilcox (23) drives around Utah's Princeton Onwas (3) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Washington's C.J. Wilcox (23) drives around Utah's Princeton Onwas (3) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(Rick Bowmer, AP)

C.J. Wilcox is on the older end of all the NBA rookies selected in Thursday night's draft.

The 23-year-old former Pleasant Grove High star, selected 28th overall by the L.A. Clippers in the first round of the NBA draft, is five years older than Australian combo guard Dante Exum, who the Utah Jazz picked fifth overall.

According to DraftExpress, Wilcox was the second-oldest prospect on its top 100 player rankings this year.

In a business where organizations place a premium on getting the most playing years they can out of an athlete, this could be seen as an issue to an older player like Wilcox.

He doesn't see it that way.

Wilcox, who worked up the ladder of playing time collegiately at Washington, feels his basketball experience will be a benefit for his transition to the pros.

"I’ve seen all the stages — I’ve gone from not playing, to kind of playing to starting to being the guy. I’ve seen all the different stages," Wilcox told media members in a conference call after being selected Thursday night. "I come in with a different approach and a different understanding of how things work, not always getting what you want and having to work from the bottom to the top. That’s kind of how I’ve always been."

Wilcox has a solid, slow-building college basketball resume: At Washington, he set the school career record for 3-pointers with 301 and is the program's second all-time scorer with 1,880 points. He also averaged 18.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a fifth-year senior for the Huskies last season, helping Wilcox earn second team all-Pac 12 honors.

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound shooting guard was regarded as one of the best shooters in the 2014 draft. Yet, while Los Angeles was 22nd in the league in 3-point shooting last season, Rivers said that wasn't an overriding factor leading to Wilcox's selection.

"That’s important, but we also led the league in scoring," Rivers told media members in a post-selection press conference. "We’re not going to worry about where it came from, as long as you’re scoring and you’re efficient, then you’re pretty good with that.

"Shooting is a premium in our league, and the more you have it, the better for us."

So what does Wilcox bring as an overall package to the Clippers? He said the first thing Rivers mentioned to him was defense, not his 3-point shooting prowess.

"He’s long, he’s athletic and it’s rare when you get a shooter like that — not only is he a catch-and-shoot guy — that wants to defend," Rivers said. "That’s a great combination. Most of the time you get a great shooter but can’t defend, or a great shooter but not athletic.

"We got a great shooter who can defend and is athletic. I thought that was important."

Wilcox also has familiarity with the Clippers organization. The former Viking said he once worked out with Clippers point guard Chris Paul in Aguora Hills, California, outside of Los Angeles.

"It was good to see him in person, to go against him and compete against him," Wilcox said of playing with the seven-time NBA All-Star. "That helped me get a sense of how he plays in person. I’m really excited."

He also has spent time on the court with 14-year pro Jamal Crawford, who Wilcox said would travel to Seattle every summer to work out.

"I’ve competed against him and been around guys close to him. I know we’ll probably be able to mesh a little bit since we’ve spent some summers together," Wilcox said. "I think he’ll hopefully take me under his wing and show me the ropes."

ESPN Insider Chad Ford graded the Clippers' draft a C+ in his post-draft analysis, noting that Wilcox is a player with deep range that could help the playoff team immediately, "but didn't they draft that guy last year in Reggie Bullock?"

There will also be competition for Wilcox to earn playing time. The team's returning top options at shooting guard are Crawford, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award winner last year, and J.J. Redick. What will it take for him to contribute next season?

"Beat out those other guys," Rivers said. "But maybe he could move, maybe he could play the 3 some, too. It’s a competition, it always will be, it always should be. But he has a tool that can get him on the floor. He has a couple of them: he has size and he can shoot."

Though he grew up in Utah, Wilcox — whose father Craig Wilcox played at BYU — will also have the added benefit of having family close in Los Angeles. Two years ago, they moved to San Diego.

"I wanted to stay on the West Coast from the beginning," he said. "It’s really convenient that they’re done here in San Diego and I’m a two-hour drive away from them. They’ll be able to make it to a lot of games.

"My dad’s excited because he didn’t get to see many games when I was up in Seattle. I think it’s a blessing in disguise that they ended up moving out here."

Wilcox will get his first chance to impress in game action when the Clippers open summer league play with a game against the Chicago Bulls on July 12 in Las Vegas. The L.A. team also has contests scheduled with the Miami Heat on July 14, then the Houston Rockets the next day, with games from July 16-21 to be determined.

"I definitely feel like I’ve got a lot to learn," he said. "Even though I’m 23, I still feel like my game can still expand in so many ways, which is not what you expect from a 23-year-old.

"There’s a lot of room to expand and I’m excited to be in L.A. to do that."

Email: bjudd@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @brandonljudd

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