COLUMBIA — Isaiah Wilson pauses when he thinks about his place on the team. He bites his lower lip. He has a lot to think about.
He thinks about where he’d like to be: starting. Yes, he’s only a freshman. But he’s a competitor. He always wants more.
He thinks about where he could be: playing junior varsity basketball at Hickman High School. He might be starting there. But he likes varsity basketball better.
And he thinks about where he is: the sixth man for Fr. Tolton Catholic Regional High School. He’s a role player on a team competing for a spot in the state championship for Class 2. He’s a vital member of the Trailblazers’ roster, Tolton head coach Tyler Clark says.
And he wouldn’t be here at all if his dad had kept his old job.
Last year, Deronne Wilson left his job as an assistant head coach at Hickman for a similar position at Tolton, and his son followed him. If his father had stayed at Hickman, that is where Isaiah Wilson would have been playing basketball this year. The father's new job has offered the son an opportunity he would not have had at Hickman.
Deronne Wilson said the change was harder for him than it was for his son.
“It was a difficult decision. I really liked Hickman,” he said.
He watched the Kewpies grow up. He coached them in summer leagues and in MSHSAA competition. And Hickman’s head coach, David Johnson, was a mentor to him.
Isaiah "probably handled the adjustment a lot better than I did,” Deronne Wilson said with a grin.
Isaiah Wilson likes it at Tolton, he said. The people are nice, the academics are top quality, and he has a chance to contribute to the team as a freshman.
“I’d like to start,” he said. “But I’ll play my role.”
Even though he comes off the bench, Isaiah Wilson says he is a facilitator, a quarterback at the top of the key. He’s a point guard, and he keeps his team running smoothly.
Deronne Wilson said he and his son bring energy and enthusiasm to Tolton. It has been exciting and challenging for him to watch his son take his place on the team.
The beginning of the year was a struggle, he said. The whole team had some ups and downs. His son hadn’t quite figured out his role yet.
“The second half of the season has gotten better,” Deronne Wilson said. “He’s in a better space mentally than he was. The beginning of the season was tough because he’s always used to being a starter.”
Tolton junior guard Wes Waterman said he has seen a change in Isaiah Wilson’s play as the year has gone on.
“At the beginning of the year, he’d always get down on himself when he missed a shot,” Waterman said. “But now he’s starting to realize he needs to move on to the next play, and it’ll come if you keep playing hard.”
As a coach, Deronne Wilson is tough on his son when he is not performing to the best of his abilities. But he also has to be a dad.
He tries not to call his kid out too much. He doesn’t want to be harder on him than the other players.
But it’s difficult. He knows what his son can do. He knows when he isn’t at his best more than any other player. And he has a connection with his son that he doesn’t have with anyone else.
“I can just give him a look, and he’ll know,” the father said.
After Tolton’s sectional win over Linn High School, the two sat together on the baseline of the court at Jefferson City High School, the dad in his black V-neck sweater with a tie and the son in his dark blue Tolton sweatsuit.
When asked how he felt about getting a chance to compete in quarterfinals, Isaiah Wilson didn't hesitate.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “For me to be a freshman and come in my first year and make it this far, I think it’s awesome.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.