Updated Mon, Nov 19, 2012 3:59 pm
A strong faith can give anyone a confidence that allows them to exceed expectations when pressure is at its highest.
Snow College transfer Travis Wilkins demonstrated this trust in Coach Jim Christian when he revoked his commitment to Southern Illinois in order to join the Bobcats for another run at the Sweet Sixteen.
The first-year head coach returned this trust by substituting the 23-year-old in for Nick Kellogg in the season opener against Portland. With the Bobcats down 16-14 with 11:55 remaining in the first half, Christian was looking for a spark from the bench.
Wilkins didn’t waste any time, nailing a three-pointer to put the Bobcats up 17-14. Within 11 seconds, Wilkins demonstrated why everyone should have confidence in his shot and trust in his abilities on the court.
A strong faith has been a part of Wilkins’ life ever since he can remember. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Wilkins grew up knowing he’d someday go on a two-year mission, fulfilling the dream of several young men in the Mormon faith.
“It was a goal that I had set when I was a little kid. Something I always wanted to do,” Wilkins said. “Before I even got into high school, before schools even started recruiting, going on a mission is something I wanted to do.”
This anticipation is something experienced by many young men in the Mormon faith. Each week, a large number of 19-year-old males receive their mission call from the Presidency of the Church, which informs them where they’ll serve for the next two years. Mission call destinations can be either stateside or foreign.
No matter the location, the excitement leading to callings often brings friends and families together. Many will guess where the soon-to-be missionary will be headed for the next two years. Wilkins remembers the emotions from his calling clearly.
“I was excited. Kind of in disbelief almost,” Wilkins said. “I always knew I was going to go on a Mormon mission, but at the time it had come, it was hard to imagine I was going to be in Argentina.”
As an all-state basketball team selection, Wilkins led Willard High School to the Class 4 Missouri State Championship his senior year. Immediately following high school, he left the game of basketball to complete his mission.
Some may view missions as a hefty toll for Mormon athletes. They have no access to gyms or weight rooms for two years. Some football players who become missionaries will lift heavy rocks just to stay in shape.
In Wilkins’ case, it was difficult to give up the “rock” and not play the game he loved for two years. He admits it was extremely difficult to stay in shape with the little amount of free time.
“I wouldn't say I stayed in basketball shape for one thing, but to stay in the best shape I could, I'd do pushups, occasionally go on a jog, things like that,” Wilkins said. “I didn't stay in shape. I had to do that when I came back from Argentina.”
Out of the two years Wilkins was in Argentina, he said he touched a basketball “maybe ten times or less.” It was a new experience, especially for a man who grew up playing the game ten times or more a week.
“It was hard, especially at first. I've played basketball my entire life and when I got to Argentina, it didn't stop me automatically from playing basketball,” Wilkins said. “It was tough, but then I grew to love what I was doing as a missionary and kind of put basketball aside and tried to focus on what I was doing there at the time.”
Missionaries often talk about how life changing a mission is. It offers them a chance to grow in their faith and learn about the area surrounding them during the process. Wilkins may have fallen out of basketball shape, but he was able to shape his faith and understanding of the world.
“I learned a lot in Argentina. The first time being away from home. Learned how to live on my own. Learned how to work. It's not like I was vacationing there the whole time. It was a lot of hard work,” Wilkins said. “As far as my faith goes, I gained an even greater testimony of what I believe in. I had several experiences to help my testimony grow while I was in Argentina.”
The struggles Wilkins witnessed in Argentina gave him a completely different perspective on the world. He saw the differences between Argentina and the United States of America and how fortunate Americans are.
Wilkins pursued his second dream by playing basketball at Snow College once he returned from his mission in November 2009. Two years later, he made the decision to transfer from Snow to play at a Division-I school. Ohio, following a Sweet Sixteen appearance, was on his list, but he did consider one lofty circumstance involving the university.
Members of the Mormon faith follow the Word of Wisdom, a set of guidelines that say to refrain from the use of alcohol and drugs. With that in mind, Wilkins was hesitant transferring to a school known for its party scene.
“I thought about it, but being married, I don't spend much time around singles, partying and that kind of stuff, so I didn't have to worry about that,” Wilkins said. “If I came here or if I had an opportunity to come here when I was single, I probably wouldn't have came because of the party scene and all that.”
Wilkins continues to adjust to the new scenery. With a new coach and scheme, it will take time for the shooting guard to fully transition into the flow of the offense, but he has done this before.
He adjusted to Argentina. He accepted the fact he’d never touch a basketball for two years. He worked to regain the basketball shape once he returned to the United States.
Wilkins’ life has been an adjustment, but he’s been able to succeed because he maintained the one thing he’s valued his entire life.
*Photo Credit Kate Hiller