Feb. 4, 2013
By EMILY PIFER
OhioBobcats.com - Staff Writer
Travis Wilkins cannot remember a time when he was not playing basketball.
He grew up enveloped in the sport. His dad loved basketball. His brothers helped him learn to play the game, and his friends often doubled as teammates.
"I grew up loving the game and I always had the dream of playing college ball," said Wilkins. He has a peaceful demeanor and evokes the sense of satisfaction that only comes after completing a hard day's work.
Although he dreamed of playing college basketball, it was not his only dream. Growing up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilkins considered pursuing his Mormon mission after graduating high school. However, fulfilling this dream would take him away from the game he loved for two years.
Wilkins ultimately decided to strengthen his faith and pursue his mission. The local newspaper published in Wilkins' hometown of Willard, Mo., ran an article announcing that the well-known high school shooting guard had no plans to play college basketball.
He had not been heavily recruited by Division I colleges, despite helping lead his high school team to a state title.
It was as if the talented player simply fell off the map.
And for two years, he did.
On a Mission
Wilkins wanted to follow the example set by older members of his family, who had gone on Mormon missions. At a young age, he decided that he too would travel abroad to help people in need and share his beliefs with others.
After his senior year of high school, Wilkins went to Utah to prepare for his expedition at The Missionary Training Center. There, he spent time learning Spanish and the basics of what he would be doing on the mission. Soon, he got called to serve as a missionary in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.
"The entire time I was there, I was serving the people, whether it was helping them paint their homes or by teaching them about my faith," Wilkins said.
Wilkins had to adapt quickly to his surroundings in South America. He laughs at remembering his struggle to understand the Argentinean people. However, he credits his maturity and ability to adapt to challenges to his experience on the mission. Far from his family and friends, Wilkins grew up fast.
"It was definitely a great experience and it has had a huge impact on my athletic career," Wilkins said. "Who knows where I would be right now if I would never have gone on my mission. I might not be playing Division I basketball."
Back on the Map
Wilkins joined the Ohio University men's basketball team this season after playing two years at Snow College, a junior college in Utah. A classic sharpshooter, Wilkins made an impressive 48 percent of his attempts from 3-point territory during his career at Snow.
Playing for the Bobcats, Wilkins has already made a statement by becoming a key role player off the bench. He's averaging four points per game this season and is ranked second in the MAC with a 47.1 percentage from beyond the arc. He posted a season-high 14 points against Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 22.
"I have to be a guy that comes off the bench with a lot of energy, to give a spark or continue what the other guys have already started. I have to be ready at all times, staying focused so that when my number is called I'm ready to go," explains Wilkins of his role on the team.
Off the Court
Wilkins focuses on positively impacting his team. He simply believes in leading by exemplifying good character, rather than pushing his ideas and advice on others. The talented shooter is not a closed book, though.
"The guys often ask me questions about what I believe in, and what I was doing in Argentina. It's a good opportunity for me to share some of the experiences I've had," Wilkins mentions, happy that he has been able to open up to his friends on the team.
Ohio senior forward Ivo Baltic has connected with Wilkins. Both Baltic and Wilkins are Missouri natives. Also, Baltic is familiar with Wilkins' faith because his best friend from back home is a Mormon. Baltic was happy to welcome Wilkins to the team, but he knew Ohio University would be an adjustment for the Mormon player.
"When he came on his visit, I filled him in about the university and the team because that's the way I feel like it should happen. I felt like he needed to hear it, especially because of his background and his religion. I wanted to let him know some of the differences he would see at Ohio," explains Baltic.
The two playfully joke about Wilkins being older, but Baltic notes that Travis' experience impacts the team positively in both points and leadership.
"He does the right things on and off the court, and he is someone that you can look up to. He has good grades and never does anything stupid. You won't ever hear of Travis getting into trouble," adds Baltic.
Wilkins received Academic All-America honors during his time at Snow. At Ohio, Wilkins majors in psychology and is also pursuing a minor in business administration. After completing his undergraduate education, he plans to go on to receive an MBA. His goal is to be an entrepreneur.
"I don't know where I want to go for graduate school, but it won't necessarily be in the Midwest. I want to keep my options open. I enjoy getting to know new areas," says Wilkins.
Wilkins and Baltic both agree that his transition to the Athens community and as a member of the Ohio University men's basketball team has gone smoothly. From Missouri to Argentina to Utah, Wilkins is beginning to feel at home surrounded by the hills of Athens.
Wilkins attends church every Sunday, in addition to any scheduled practices or games. He has found a welcoming church in The Plains, which has helped make the transition easier.
"The entire community of Athens is welcoming. You go to Walmart, for example, and everybody will talk to you. It's just a very warm community and that has helped," he adds.
Off the Market
The Mormon faith is known for its strong values of faith, family and community. Traditionally, Mormons devote each Sunday entirely to these values. In fact, the first Sunday that Wilkins ever spent on the basketball court was with the Bobcats.
Like most Mormons, Wilkins has never consumed alcohol or tobacco. However, he does set the record straight about one common stereotype for people of the Mormon faith: that they abstain from caffeine. Dr. Pepper is his drink of choice and has been ever since he was a kid.
Between his commitment to complete a Mormon mission and committing to play basketball at Ohio University, Travis Wilkins made yet another important commitment.
Wilkins has been married to his wife, Daphne, since August of 2011. The two share a type of love story that is more commonly found in storybooks than in real life. They grew up together in Willard, Missouri. Daphne was not raised Mormon, but converted during high school. She, too, grew up playing basketball and volleyball. Going on to play collegiate volleyball at Missouri Southern, she understands her husband's demanding schedule.
"It seems like we are always on road trips and things like that, so off the court I try to spend as much time as I can with my wife," says Wilkins with a wide smile.
Wilkins says that Daphne has not missed a home game this season.
And perhaps that is what has driven his basketball career and strong faith all along.
Travis Wilkins doesn't like to miss, either.
-- GO BOBCATS!! --