SALT LAKE CITY — Drive about 40 minutes south of here, and you will find the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah, where C.J. Wilcox grew up and began honing the 3-point touch that has made him one of the nation’s most dangerous shooters.
It was there, more than half a decade ago, where Washington coach Lorenzo Romar made an in-home visit to Wilcox and his family.
But Romar heard something from Wilcox’s father, Craig, during that visit that he wasn’t expecting. And it’s the biggest reason why Wilcox, a fifth-year senior, is still at UW.
“One of the questions asked (by) his dad was, ‘What do you think about redshirting?’ I wasn’t prepared for that one because C.J. was good enough to play as a freshman,” Romar said, “and in this day and age, parents don’t think that way. The kid doesn’t think that way. No one thinks there are some things that need to be worked on here, and we want to take advantage of all those things.”
Nobody except Craig Wilcox, whose vision for his son’s college career included a year getting acclimated to the collegiate game. C.J. was cool with it, too.
“They had so many good players ahead of me. Just coming in, being new to the defensive thing ... I didn’t want to waste half a year getting comfortable playing,” Wilcox said last week. “I think I’m benefiting from it right now.”
So Wilcox sat during his freshman season, a decision that puzzled fans who throughout that 2009-10 season bemoaned UW’s lack of perimeter shooting.
They didn’t know, Romar said, what he knew. And because of the decision to sit Wilcox during a season in which players such as Isaiah Thomas, Justin Holiday, Venoy Overton, Abdul Gaddy and Elston Turner were going to get more minutes at the guard positions, Wilcox is back for a fifth season and will play for the final time Thursday near his hometown, as the Huskies visit Utah — the school over which he chose UW — at 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks).
The redshirt process not only required patience from Wilcox, but from Romar. The coach admits there were times he fought the urge to send Wilcox into the game when the Huskies needed someone to knock down some outside shots.
“I can’t fault the fans if they don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills. I can see why they might be worried,” Romar said of the criticism back then. “But we knew. So that didn’t affect me as much as every now and then, I just kind of wanted to go, ‘C.J. (get in the game)!’ But we resisted the temptation.”
They were rewarded with what has so far been the kind of fifth-year senior season everyone envisioned. Wilcox had a chance to leave after last season for the NBA draft but chose instead to return to school. He said at the time that the plan from the start was to put together as strong of a fifth season as possible.
It has worked so far.
Wilcox leads the team and is second in the Pac-12 Conference in scoring with 19.8 points per game, and he’s shooting 42.8 percent from the 3-point line after leading the Huskies in scoring as a junior, too.
His abilities will be paramount to UW’s chances of winning Thursday night at the Huntsman Center. The Huskies downed Utah, 59-57, at home earlier this season, but are trying to get untracked after losing at Washington State last week. A win in a hostile environment such as Utah would go a long way toward erasing some of that sting.
“If we come out and play well, do what we’re supposed to do, that certainly helps,” Romar said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it certainly helps. So we just have to wait and see what happens on that.”
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Washington (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12 COnference) at Utah (14-7, 3-6)
6 P.M., HUNTSMAN CENTER, SALT LAKE CITY
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 950-AM.
The series: Washington leads, 8-6.
Scouting report: It turns out Washington’s 59-57 victory over Utah on Jan. 8 was a sign of things to come for the tough-luck Utes. They have since lost three games by four points or fewer, sandwiched around a home sweep of USC and UCLA. All of which means this figures to be an exceedingly difficult road game for the Huskies, who are coming off Saturday’s deflating loss at Washington State. Utah’s home-court advantage has resurfaced in a big way this season. It’s not uncommon for the Utes to draw five-figure crowds to the Huntsman Center, and Utah is 14-1 there this season. ... The Huskies had trouble containing Utes guard Delon Wright the last time the teams met. He scored 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the field and grabbed 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. UW must keep him out of the paint this time around.