It’s hard to imagine Ohio’s lineup without Dwight Wilson III. The graduate student is the cornerstone of Ohio’s attack in the paint. He’s averaging a double-double so far in Mid-American Conference play and leads Ohio in scoring and rebounding. He’s one of the best big men in the MAC.
However, Wilson wasn’t in the lineup a year ago. He was on the sidelines recovering from an ACL injury that occurred around the time Ohio wrapped up its 2021 March Madness run.
“A lot of people don’t know, when we went through that postseason run, I wasn’t healthy. Like at all,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know how bad it was, but apparently my knee was jacked up that entire time.”
Wilson had essentially played the last part of Ohio’s season on one leg and it ended up sidelining him for the entirety of the next season. While his teammates were preparing to hit the court in the fall, the Tallahassee, Florida native was learning to move again.
Wilson took baby steps. He did quad activation exercises and slowly learned to walk again. There were times where Wilson found himself bored with the recovery process because of the monotony, but he celebrated his small victories — including earning his first master’s degree.
There were bad days that outweighed the good, though. Wilson was unsure what to do since he had lost basketball.
“When you go through something like that, you kind of go through an identity crisis. For a while, I felt like I was just living a year-long movie, like I wasn’t really there,” Wilson said. “I felt like I was just there like a ghost.”
In order to not feel so left behind, Wilson became a sage to the freshman — I.J. Ezuma, Olumide Adelodun and A.J. Clayton — during his recovery season. It took time for him to earn their trust because they had never seen him play, but eventually they bought into his advice. Wilson wanted the team to succeed, even if he had to watch from the sidelines.
In due time, Wilson was allowed to resume basketball activity. But the first time he picked up a basketball post-operation, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Wilson had lost his ability to make the hook shot he’s known for.
“(Kyle Barlow) called it the twisties or something like that,” Wilson said. “It was frustrating for me, but I knew it was going to take time and everything would come back slowly.”
Barlow was Wilson’s go-to through the twisties and more. Wilson held his coach in high regard already and knew that his experience in aiding athletes’ rehabilitation was going to be vital to dusting off his skills. Barlow paid just as much attention to Wilson as he did to the athletes on the court, and it helped the 6-foot-8 forward feel seen.
Wilson ventured back into Ohio’s lineup over the summer when the team traveled to Spain. It was the first time he’d been able to step back and think about his recovery in full. Had Wilson been healthy the prior season, he wouldn’t have gotten to play against professionals overseas.
Now in the midst of his final regular season of college basketball, Wilson has a new perspective. His injury was a gift in disguise.
“Everything I have is because God blessed me with basketball. I think that He gave me that gift to change lives and my family’s lives,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where I’d be without Him, without the gift of basketball.”
Wilson kept his faith even when it seemed as if basketball was slipping through his fingers. He didn’t want to fall into a dark place and lose sight of his goal: playing beyond college.
The way he felt reminded him of a documentary he’d watched once, “Kevin Garnett: Anything is Possible.” Garnett, a former NBA player, was asked how he’d feel if he never played basketball again.
“He said ‘that would be death to me,’” Wilson said. “I guess that would be the same for me.”
Wilson has just a few weeks left in his collegiate career. He wants to leave a legacy, and he wants it to end where his injury began.
“I asked God if he could just get me back to the MAC Tournament and March Madness healthy so I can show people what I can really do because I was playing on one leg,” Wilson said. “Not just for me, but for my team.”