All cool with Sydney Kings, says Gary Wilkinson
Gary Wilkinson wants to put the record straight - there's nothing personal between him and the Sydney Kings, despite indications otherwise from his coach.
Coach Dean Vickerman might be disappointed to hear it, but the dialled in Breakers import has played down suggestions he's motivated to post big numbers on the Kings because they lowballed him in past ANBL contract negotiations.
Wilkinson scored a season-high 31 points in the December 29 99-83 victory in Sydney - the only time the clubs have met this season. They are about to go back-to-back, starting tomorrow night in Auckland, in a pair of games that have massive playoff implications.
After last Thursday's 106-101 victory over Wollongong, Vickerman suggested the Kings visit would again bring out the best in his 2.03m American. "Sydney recruited him a while back, and it's something he wanted to prove to them, how good he was. Hopefully over the next two games he proves those things again."
But Wilkinson, a fiery individual on court and the nicest bloke in the world off it, said talk of him being on a personal mission to send a message to the Kings was wide of the mark.
"They had contract negotiations and it just wasn't right for me, so I turned it down," said Wilkinson of his previous dealings with the Kings. "There's no animosity or bad blood. I came out in that [first] game and with Chief [Alex Pledger] out, there was added pressure on me to perform. I like that pressure and tried to rise to the challenge."
Wilkinson is well aware that pressure remains on, with Pledger still out and the 7-11 Breakers desperate for wins. Back-to-back games (they play in Sydney on Feb 8) against the fourth-placed 9-8 Kings make these games as close to must-win as it gets for the faltering threepeat champs.
With Melbourne almost out of sight in third place at 12-8, the Breakers regard the Kings as the most catchable. Successive wins would all but erase the deficit between the two.
"We know where we're at, we know what we have to do," said Wilkinson who's revelling in his role back starting at centre. "Now it's just a matter of getting the job done. These are a huge next few weeks for us to make our playoff push.
"We still control our destiny, but we don't want to be hoping they lose their last few games of the season. We want to be in control."
Pledger's absence has been a setback, especially on defence. The seven-footer is set to miss his sixth straight game after tweaking his injured ankle at practice on Monday.
But Wilkinson's revival has helped as the Breakers have won three of five games with their towering centre out.
The American would be the first to admit he came in - as a replacement for the sacked Darnell Lazare - somewhat underdone. But he's felt he's found his "form and rhythm" over the last two months.
In December and January Wilkinson has averaged 17.3 points and 6.0 boards, while shooting a solid 49 percent from the floor (well up on his season returns of 14.0 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game).
"But it's not about whether I knock my shots down, or anyone else. When we play as team and move the ball like we did last game, and find the open man - that's when we win."
Wilkinson also understands the importance of his matchup against Kings centre AJ Ogilvy who had a career-high eight blocks in the 105-93 victory over Adelaide on Sunday, and went for 16 rebounds last time against the Breakers.
"He killed us on the boards, and for me taking him away from the basket and spreading the floor will be a positive thing for us. We've got to keep him out of the paint as much as we can."
Turns out that's all the motivation Wilkinson needs.