Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Holli Wilkins is the Wesleyan girls’ top returning scorer and the daughter of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins.
With such an impressive pedigree, it’d be easy to assume hard work isn’t necessary.
But for junior Holli Wilkins, and for Wesleyan’s basketball program, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Wilkins is the daughter of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and niece of Atlanta Hawks great Dominique Wilkins. Her older brother Damien also has been in the league since 2004.
“I definitely think that, gosh, she had to have inherited the skills from (Gerald),” Wesleyan head coach Jan Azar said. “But she also just loves it. I mean, she would be in the gym all the time if you let her.”
Wilkins puts untold hours into refining her game and has worked hard to become one of the county’s best.
Much like the Wesleyan program she plays for.
The Wolves won their first state title before Wilkins arrived — but not by much.
The family moved back to Atlanta from Orlando, where Gerald was playing, when Holli was in second grade. The Wolves were state runner-up that year and took home the Class A championship the next season.
Wilkins enrolled at Wesleyan as a fifth-grader, the same year the program claimed the first of three straight state titles.
But she didn’t come to the small Norcross private school because of its burgeoning success on the hard court.
“We’re good friends with Mark Price and his kids went to Wesleyan,” Wilkins said. “But we didn’t realize they had such a good basketball program. It was kind of like a bonus.”
Wilkins, whose older sister Jazz also played for the Wolves for a short period, developed steadily under the watchful eyes of her father and Azar.
“It hasn’t happened overnight,” Azar said. “She’s a hard worker. Her dad Gerald does a great job with her in the offseason. So it’s been a lot of fun to watch her progress, because she’s a very quiet person. So everything she does is lead by example.”
One big jump in her game came as she was about to get to the high school level.
“Holli has always been a good player,” Azar said. “But I think the most she developed was between her eighth- and ninth-grade year, to where she could play varsity as a ninth-grader.”
Wilkins had a breakout game as an eighth-grader on the JV team. She scored 30 points against archrival Greater Atlanta Christian and Azar knew then that Wilkins was going to be ready to play varsity as a freshman.
She didn’t end up playing that much as Wesleyan, led by Anne Marie Armstrong, continued to dominate with the second of another three consecutive state titles.
“That was the year we went out to the Nike Tournament and she got to play behind Anne Marie,” Azar said. “She got to post up against Anne Marie some and learn a lot from her, I think.
“What was great about Holli is she just took it all in and kind of waited for her chance. When she got her chance her sophomore year, she just took off with it.”
Last season, with Armstrong off to the University of Georgia, Wilkins took the Wolves to yet another championship. Her 13.4 points per game led the team and ranked among top 12 in Gwinnett, a hotbed of basketball talent.
“Where she came from her ninth to 10th-grade year is where she was actually one of the top players in the county,” Azar said. “And then this year I think she’s one of the best players in the state.”
Wilkins’ leadership, quiet though it may be, has been invaluable on a young roster this season. Wesleyan lost half a dozen players from last year and Grace Leah Baughn is the lone senior on the squad.
“Holli, she’s a really good teammate,” said fellow junior Jordan Frazier. “She’s really encouraging, she’s hard-working and, most of all, she’s a good leader.
“She encourages us to hustle on and off the court. A great way of leading is she does what she’s supposed to, she goes hard.”
Azar said Wilkins is always in the right place at the right time. She also has the reach of a player several inches taller than her own 6-feet, which makes her a force on the boards.
“But I think probably the best part of her game is just her understanding of it,” Azar said. “She knows where to be and when to be there. She’s unselfish, but can score when we need her to.
“I think her teammates look to her as kind of a quiet leader, because she’s always doing the right things, but she’s not telling everybody about it. She’s very humble. She’s also amazing in the classroom.”
Her teammates say the same thing.
“Holli’s a year older than me so I’ve always looked up to her,” sophomore Brittany Stevens said. “Not only as a player but also just as a teammate in general. Because she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She’s so easy to get along with.
“Then when it comes to practice and game time, she’s really serious about it. And she’s really serious about getting better.”
Wilkins continues to learn and improve — at Wesleyan, at home and playing on an AAU team coached by her dad.
“We have to work on the press every day,” Wilkins said. “Then after practice my dad comes up here and we work on the things that would help me personally, like taking shots around the basket and coming off screens.”
A lot of players have been coached by a parent. Most admit it has it’s pluses and minuses.
“It’s more of a plus,” Wilkins said. “We always joke around. We’re a duo.
“I know it definitely helps because I can come home from a game and be like, ‘I don’t know what I did’ and he can help me.”
Azar said she certainly takes after her dad, who played 13 seasons in the NBA.
“He definitely handed his skills over to her, but she wouldn’t have them if he didn’t take the time to spend with her off the court and on the court,” Azar said. “She’s definitely a student of the game due to his influence.
“He’s done a great job working with her in the offseason and letting us coach her during the season. He’s a great fan, just to watch when she’s in our care. But yet he still works with her on her individual skills in the offseason, which has brought her to where she is today.”