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Comedian Wilks trying to make an impact

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Darnell Wilks is a funny guy. Last week, when he was summoned to talk to the media, he let his personality shine through. He went into his Allen Iverson impersonation: "Practice?!? We're talking about practice?!?" and when I pointed out that he needed a new shtick, Wilks thought for a moment and said, "Homework?!? We're talking about homework?!?

 

More requests poured in. Come on Darnell, do your Cashmere Wright impression. Suddenly the junior wing transformed his voice into a high-pitched squeak and said, "Hey man, I'm a point guard, man."

 

Cracked us up. Told about Wilks' exploits, Mick Cronin said, "That's good. Another comedian out of work."

 

But there's been nothing funny about the work Wilks has put in the past year to transform himself from an afterthought - a guy who could dunk with the best of them but didn't get to show off his skills until the garbage time of a UC win - into a player who could have a real impact for this year's Bearcats squad.

 

"Because of our situation (the past three years), we had a lot of guys being asked to play that probably weren't ready to play," said Cronin, whose squad will face Miami University at U.S. Bank Arena at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. "In normal programs, normal freshmen, it takes them a year or two to figure out what it takes to be a good player at this level. Darnell is no different. He fits into that category, and I'd say that's 80-90 percent of all freshmen. He's a junior and he understands his strengths and how to accentuate them. He's worked on his weakness. He still has improving to do, but he's really worked on his ability to make open shots. We're trying to turn him into a great offensive rebounder."

 

In the first five UC games, that mindset wasn't evident. True, he only averaged 6.8 minutes per game to go with 2.4 points (for his career, he averaged 7.0 and 1.7, respectively, coming into this season), but Cronin didn't like the fact he only procured two offensive rebounds in those five contests. Cronin told Wilks he wanted more.

 

Against Texas Southern, he listened. During UC's 94-57 win last week, Wilks played 22 minutes and recorded 12 points and six rebounds (four of which were offensive boards). Perhaps, he's turned a corner. He's gone from being a comedian to being a legit impact player.

 

"I always wanted to play," Wilks said. "Coming into this year, I saw who we were bringing in, and I was thinking that I didn't want to be that guy that you see on a lot of teams that's a junior or a senior and not playing. I wanted to work on defense, which I still need to work on, And just making a difference in rebounding. Scoring isn't what they really need me to do, even though I can do it when I'm given the opportunity. If I can step up on defense and get rebounds, I'll probably play more.

 

"When I'm in practice I try not to come out to show them I can play for long periods of time and showing them they can trust me on defense and rebounding the ball. That's something they tell me I need to do."

 

He's also tried to alter his shooting form. Coming into this season, he had shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, but so far this season, he's made 3 of 6.

 

"I thought I always shot good; I just didn't shoot," Wilks said with a big smile on his face. "Nah, it was work in the summer. When I was in high school and I used to shoot, I would jump too high. I would over-jump. When I got here, they told me not to jump as high. They told me to work on my footwork and keeping it the same and having a high arc. I've been trying to perfect it."

 

In doing so, he's showing his teammates his desire to improve.

 

"He's finally starting to understand that he has to play hard and smart," junior wing Rashad Bishop said. "You can't just go out and play hard. You have to play smart. He's probably the most athletic player on the team. But he just didn't have the fundamentals."

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