Utah basketball: C.J. Wilcox to face Utes for last time in SLC
College basketball • Ex-Pleasant Grove star makes a final return, this time as Huskies’ star.
Published: February 5, 2014 09:16AM
Updated: February 5, 2014 10:40PM
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Washington guard C.J. Wilcox (23) dunks against Washington State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

C.J. Wilcox no longer has Tony Wroten to lean on.

Terrence Ross? Nope. He’s a starter with the Toronto Raptors. He can forget about Isaiah Thomas. He’s Sacramento’s point guard. Scott Suggs was there last season, but he’s exhausted his eligibility.

For the first time in his career as a Washington Husky, C.J. Wilcox is the man. The bull’s-eye is squarely on his chest. Every team in the Pac-12 aims to take away his offense. Heck, even as an All-State guard at Pleasant Grove, he could lean on his cousin LeSean to play the point and run the offense.

“I think people will look back in a couple of years and really know how special he’s been to us,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said.

When Washington takes on Utah at the Huntsman Center on Thursday night, Wilcox will be a marked man. But he’s used to it, and he thrives in spite of it. On what is the least talented team he’s played on, Wilcox averages 19.8 points per game, second in the conference to Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson. He’s the best shooter in the league, and has rounded out his game. Like many of his teammates before him, the NBA likely awaits.

“It’s always great to come home and see my family and friends,” Wilcox said. “Coming back to Salt Lake is always special for me, and this is my last time, so I want to cherish it. At the same time, this is a business trip for us. We’re looking at this as a game we have to get, so it’s like any other game. Utah’s a good team, so we have to come in and play well.”

Wilcox is a rarity these days: A college basketball senior who has a future at the next level. Few players around the country can hurt a team like he can with his jumper. At 6-foot-6, he’s tall enough to get his shot off against most defenders. His handle has improved from years past. He can now get to the basket and finish at the rim.

But that doesn’t describe what he’s meant to the Huskies and Romar. He’s taken a young team — one that has suffered multiple injuries — and put it on his back. With a 5-4 record in league play, Washington is in the thick of the conference race. In doing so, he’s doing his best to keep his coach off the hot seat.

“He’s been an extremely special player for us and I think he’s really showcased that this year,” Romar said. “He’s always proven he can score, but this year, the way he’s expanded all aspects of his game, just proves how special his talent really is.”

In doing so, Wilcox is forever embedding himself in the minds of Husky fans. Thomas, Ross and Wroten were all special talents. But two of them were one-and-done guys, and Thomas left after his junior season.

Wilcox has been a part of Romar’s program for five seasons. He’s the sixth-leading scorer in school history, and is in the running for conference player of the year.

“He’s the best shooter in the league right now,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “He’s one of the leading scorers and they do a lot of things to get him open looks. I’m sure this game means a lot to him, and I think we’ll be seeing him at the next level.”

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

About C.J. Wilcox

• Native of Pleasant Grove

• Chose Washington over Utah

• His father, Craig, played basketball at BYU

• Played AAU ball with BYU guard Tyler Haws

• Is the second-leading scorer in the Pac-12

Washington at Utah

O At the Huntsman Center

Tipoff • Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 14-7 (3-6); Washington 13-9 (5-4)

Series history • Washington leads 8-6

Last meeting • Washington 59, Utah 57 (Jan. 8)