ORLANDO, Fla. – When Isaiah Wilkins went through drills in a crisp 40-minute session at the Amway Center on Wednesday with the Virginia basketball team, it marked the first time this week he joined the Hoos on the practice floor. He spent the rest of the week on the sidelines as he tries to recover from a lingering illness.
No one in the UVA camp was sure whether Wilkins would play in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament opener against UNC Wilmington at 12:40 p.m.
“I didn’t practice all week at all. I go to practice, but I don’t do anything. I’ve been resting since we got back from New York. So today I’m going to work out a little bit when we go in there and see how I’m feeling, and it will probably be a game-time decision,” Wilkins said prior to the short practice.
“We’ve held him all week. He hasn’t practiced,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “And we’re hopeful – we’re going to, I guess, test him, or he’s going to go through our 40 minutes out on the court and see how he responds and then kind of make it a game-time decision. Hopefully, he’ll be able to play in spots.”
Wilkins has been on spot duty for the most part over the last five games. After starting the first 27 games of the season and averaging 28.7 minutes, he’s started only once down the stretch and managed only 19 minutes per game. During this stretch, he’s scored 8 points or more only once.
The lone start in the last five games came against Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament and he posted 8 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes. The Hoos won 75-63. Wilkins said the outing proved tough for him, but he really felt it the next night against Notre Dame. He managed 14 minutes in that one with 2 points and 3 rebounds.
“I was tired in that game, and one day of like back-to-back games, I think it took a lot out of me. I thought I was going to die against Notre Dame,” Wilkins said. “I’m glad I got these five days rest or whatever it is, and I’m trying to get ready.”
Bennett said the team is “just trying to be as smart as we can” with Wilkins and his availability.
“I think it’s just a nasty virus that’s gone through him,” Bennett said. “He’s been tested a couple times for mono, and both times it’s come back negative, which is good.”
The Cavaliers could use Wilkins’ skillset against UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks play four-guard lineups with a lot of screen-and-roll actions alongside a spaced perimeter. Often the lone post on the floor is Devontae Cacok, a 6’7” and 240-pound sophomore. Cacok leads the nation in field goal percentage at 79.9% through 34 games. He also leads UNCW in rebounding at 9.6 per game.
Cacok is coming off a strong game in the CAA Championship too. He posted 15 points and 14 rebounds to help the Seahawks clinch an NCAA Tournament spot.
Someone with Wilkins’ experience and versatility could help challenge some of that offensive output. Plus, as Bennett put it “he’s the heart and soul of this team in many ways” because he provides a lot of energy and intangible plays that others feed off of on the floor.
If he gets on the floor, Bennett knows that Wilkins will give it his best effort.
“He says he’s feeling better, but, yeah, he’s lost some weight,” Bennett said. “He’s given us – he’s such a warrior. He’s given us whatever he can give us in those games, since he’s been sick.”