If he’s brutally honest, Gary Wilkinson assumed his time in the NBL was up. He’d figured prominently in two of the Breakers’ three Championship teams and was back home in Utah moving on with life.
“I’d just sat my LSAT – the Law School Admittance Test. Then I got a call from Paul Blackwell,” Wilkinson said.
“We’d been in touch quite a bit since I went home so we were just talking, shooting the breeze. Then he was like well if you’re not doing anything maybe you’d like to come back and play for the Breakers. I was like okay, well I’ll talk to my wife.”
That was October. And it was an easy sell. Within days, the Wilkinson family was back in Auckland and Gary was suiting up in a Breakers singlet.
“My wife didn’t take any convincing at all. I think if I said to her I want to live in Auckland for the rest of our lives she’d be happy with that. She loves it here. She’s a beach girl and spends lots of time there,” he said.
“New Zealand for us really does provide the full gamut of what we look for. Basketball, the climate, the lifestyle. So coming back it really was like putting on a pair of old comfy shoes and just slotting straight back in.”
“I noticed a few things had changed. I think the physicality of the League has changed a little. And obviously it’s different because we’re not in first place like I was used to!”
There’s also one more Wilkinson in the entourage since Gary departed the NBL at the end of the 2011/12 season.
Little Eva, who is just shy of her first birthday, on the road with two-year-old Jordan. Their parents met at College.
“Jessica was on the volleyball team. I couldn’t resist those volleyball uniforms. Haha,” Gary said.
“She was way out of my league but I pursued her and eventually convinced her to go out with me.”
They married young. It will be eight years in a few months. They met in August, were engaged by February. The wedding was in June.
“There’s no need to wait when you know you’ve got it right!”
And so began one of the more gifted sporting relationships. And one of the tallest.
“Jess is 5’9. So not quite a giant. But she was very good at volleyball. She played three sports really well. She was All-State in volleyball, softball and basketball. Then she got her volleyball scholarship and we ended up at the same University.”
“The great thing is because of her sporting background she understands what it’s like to be a professional athlete. She is super supportive. She understands that it is a passionate sport and sometimes you can cross the line.”
“But Jess started to get more into coaching. She’s really good at motivating people. So I always told her I’m lucky because I have one extra coach more than everyone else!”
Wilkinson is yet to put a timeframe on his professional basketball career. But he knows a career in law is his long-term goal.
“I’ve kind of thrown all my eggs in that basket. But it is definitely the plan. It just depends on when it happens,” he said.
“Obviously I love basketball and people have told me there is no reason to ever stop playing. They tell me I have the rest of my life to sit behind a desk.”
“The LSAT is good for five years. I’ve done a sociology degree so I have to do another four years of study.”
“There are so many options out there but I’ll probably look at constitutional law. I think it’s something I can be passionate about. But ultimately for me it is all about creating a sustainable living for my family.”
“I love spending time with my children. My faith and my family are the two most important things to me. And the great thing about professional basketball is that once we have finished training of a day there is plenty of opportunity for both.”
“It is really important to me to spend time reading to them and just talking to them. I’ll be down on the floor crawling around with them. I just think the more I can interact with them on their level the better it is going to be for developing strong bonds.”
“And hopefully they will remember that hey he was a cool guy who spent a lot of time with me!”
The Breakers family will no doubt look back on the Wilkinson era with the same fondness.