Utah Jazz Summer League addition Thomas Wilder embraces 'underdog' role in new situation

Utah Jazz Summer League addition Thomas Wilder embraces 'underdog' role in new situation

SALT LAKE CITY — Thomas Wilder watched, listened and waited with his phone by his side at an apartment in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

His cousin was with him, but not a large group of supporters.

Sixty names were called during the NBA draft on June 21 in Brooklyn, but none were his.

As soon as the drafted ended, though, his agent Jamar Smiley was the first to call him with an opportunity. The Utah Jazz had extended an offer to play on the summer league teams in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Wilder told Smiley.

Three days after the draft, he arrived at the Little America Hotel in Utah to begin his NBA journey.

But just four years earlier, the Montgomery, Illinois, native only held a single offer to Western Michigan University, coming out of Quakerdale Prep in Iowa.

After constantly being overlooked — despite finishing his career behind David Kool as WMU’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,040 points — he’s attempting to leave his mark in Utah with this chance as an undrafted player.

“I still have that chip for sure,” Wilder said. “I feel like it’s probably gotten bigger since people were saying ‘I wouldn’t be good enough to play in the NBA’ and I know how hard I worked, how much work I put in, so that just made me even more hungry.

“I definitely feel like I’m an underdog and even if I get to the level where I’m not the underdog, I’ll still feel like I’m the underdog, so I always put that hashtag when I make a tweet or something because that’s how I feel.”

Wilder didn’t enter the game during Utah’s 92-76 victory to open the Utah Jazz Summer League at Vivint Arena on Monday, but saw action in Game 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday. With Utah’s 21st overall pick Grayson Allen resting, Wilder chipped in four points off the bench in 13 minutes as the Jazz fell to the Grizzlies, 95-92, despite clawing back from a 26-point deficit.

Naz Mitrou-Long led the way for the Jazz with 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Tony Bradley and Georges Niang both added 18 points apiece while Niang hauled in 10 boards and Bradley grabbed 14 rebounds.

The Jazz will close out the local summer league with a 7 p.m. matchup against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, July 5, before heading to the NBA Summer League in Sin City from July 6-17.

Wilder’s alma mater, WMU, is known more for football than hoops but recently produced an NBA player in Shayne Whittington, who had a two-year stint with the Indiana Pacers from 2014-16. Whittington has offered advice to Wilder throughout the pre-draft process and spent the past season in Russia.

Actors Tim Allen and Terry Crews, late ESPN/ABC journalist John Saunders, ESPN columnist LZ Granderson and football players Greg Jennings, Louis Delmas and Corey Davis are other notable alumni from the school.

WMU coach Steve Hawkins has faith in Wilder to stick on the professional level.

“He’s been an underdog his whole life, so this is another opportunity for him,” Hawkins said. “And I know he’ll attack it like he’s attacked everything else, but he didn’t have anything coming out of high school, and then he went to prep school and we were his only Division I offer out of prep school, so he came with us.”

Wilder is certainly a longshot as a guard to make the final roster in Utah after its second-round playoff run, but he has done things to impress the coaching staff during this short period.

With his background of making the most out of just one Division I scholarship, it’s already an accomplishment to come from a Mid-American Conference program to get his foot in the door of the National Basketball Association, but that’s not enough for him.

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“I think we’ve got a bunch of younger guards here that are all trying to figure it out on the fly, but Thomas has been one of the guys, he’s got quickness, he’s got burst, he can play at different speeds and he’s been able to get into the paint, which are the things we want to see,” said Jazz Summer League coach Mike Wells. “And then, we always talk about playing with our eyes out so we can get to the rim and get threes and stuff, and he’s been able to get to the paint for us.”

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Published at Wed, 04 Jul 2018 04:48:00 +0000