In the midst of a sophomore season featuring plenty of highs and lows, 21-year-old Michigan power forward D.J. Wilson is peaking at the right time and helping his long-term professional outlook in a major way in March. The skilled Sacramento native has been a key cog in the Wolverines' unlikely Big Ten Tournament Championship, and Sweet 16 run, putting himself firmly on the NBA radar in the process.
Whether it was the clutch free throws down the stretch of the Oklahoma State win (19 points, five rebounds, four blocks) or the game-ending block against Louisville (17 points, three blocks), Wilson has made his presence felt on both ends of the floor, using huge stage of the Tournament to showcase the impressive tools and talent that NBA scouts have seen sporadically throughout the course of his Michigan career.
A late-bloomer at Capital Christian High School (Sacramento), Wilson wasn't an elite recruit by any means - as the 159th rated player in that class according to the RSCI. He spent his AAU days as a 6' 7 wing shooter who came off the bench for Team Superstar, a squad that also featured San Diego State forward Malik Pope. The long arms, fluidity, stroke and perimeter skills were certainly intriguing, but Wilson battled back injuries his sophomore and junior seasons and was never able to establish himself as a top-shelf recruit.
Wilson eventually signed with Michigan in October of 2013, as the Wolverines were by far his best offer at the time - with Boise State, Cal Poly, Colorado, Loyola Marymount and Nevada also pursuing the lanky forward.
Wilson's road from under-recruited combo forward to NCAA Tournament standout hasn't been an easy one. The now 6' 10 power forward played sparingly four games into his freshman season before going down with a near-season-ending knee injury, eventually electing to redshirt. Although mostly healthy his second year (redshirt freshman season), Wilson struggled to stay on the floor, averaging just five minutes a game in 23 appearances on a Michigan team that wasn't exactly loaded with stellar big men.
Wilson would catch the eyes of the NBA scouts who came early enough to take in pregame warmups, but his potential never truly translated to game play that year, as he struggled with physicality and thinking the game quickly enough to stay on the floor. After a strong summer, Wilson finally started to turn the corner with a much bigger role this season - making 35 of 37 starts and averaging 30 minutes a game. He was still plagued by some of the same inconsistencies, but was able to play through them, and now is finally starting to turn his potential into production.
During Michigan's two NCAA Tournament wins, Wilson's agility at 6' 10, length, stretch potential, perimeter skills and defensive upside (as a pick and roll switch defender who can occasionally protect the rim) really stood out. Here's an in-depth look at how Wilson was able to shine against Oklahoma State and Louisville as it relates to his NBA potential:
Although he's very intriguing as a long, rangy stretch four, Wilson also proved that he still has a ways to go before being considered a top-flight power forward prospect. He managed to grab only five defensive rebounds and dish out only one assist in 76 minutes of action during the first two rounds, and left much to be desired as an interior defender both in terms of physicality and toughness.
Wilson has been prone to following impressive two or three-game stretches with underwhelming performances, and he'll certainly be tested against a versatile, athletic Oregon team on Thursday. A big game would help answer some of the questions about Wilson's consistency, while continuing to boost the burgeoning draft stock that likely didn't seem all that realistic when he was an under recruited wing shooter coming off the bench at the AAU ranks.