WMU’s Wilder declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Kentuckys. The Dukes. The Michigan States. They have to deal with this all the time.

But for Western Michigan men’s basketball coach Steve Hawkins, Tuesday was a first.

Junior guard Thomas Wilder declared for the NBA draft, putting him in position to be the first Western Michigan player ever to leave early for the NBA. Wilder, though, said he will not hire an agent, allowing him to return to school if the intel he receives in the next several weeks suggests he’s not ready to turn pro.

“I love Western. They blessed me with the opportunity coming out of high school. This was my only Division I offer,” Wilder said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “I’m grateful for that. Western will always have a special place in my heart.

“And I’m more than willing to come back and play for my senior year. I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all.”

Wilder, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder from Montgomery, Illinois, has thought all season about the possibility of turning pro, and shortly before the Mid-American Conference tournament in Cleveland, he and Hawkins talked about it.

After practice one day, Wilder said to Hawkins, “What do you think?”

And Hawkins was perfectly honest.

“I said, ‘I think you should do it,’ ” Hawkins said. “It’s a win-win, if he’s fortunate enough to get a good look and to get something out of this. Then that’s terrific for him, and that’s only great for us, too, to have a player that makes it at the highest level.

“If he doesn’t make it, then we’ll have him back. He’s really smart, and has surrounded himself with smart people.”

Wilder is one of at least three Division I players from Michigan considering leaving early for the NBA, along with Central Michigan junior Marcus Keene, the nation’s scoring leader who also hasn’t yet hired an agent; and Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges, who is widely expected to leave and is considered a first-round pick.

The longer Michigan plays in the NCAA Tournament, the more eyes will be on forwards Moritz Wagner, a sophomore, and D.J. Wilson, a junior, as well.

Wilder averaged 19.3 points this season, fourth in the Mid-American Conference, and earned first-team All-MAC. He averaged 18.0 points the season before.

This year, he might’ve been greatly overshadowed by Keene, who averaged 30 points this season, but Wilder’s Broncos won the MAC West championship and made the conference tournament quarterfinals.

Not yet sure he’ll be invited to the NBA Combine in May, Wilder looks forward to a chance to showcase his skills.

“I hope they give me the opportunity,” he said.

Early NBA draft entrants have until June 12 to withdraw their name from consideration for the June 22 draft, provided, again, they haven’t hired an agent.

That’s a new procedure put in place in recent years, to protect college-aged players who might be getting bad information from those without their best interest in mind.

Wilder plans to make the final decision with counsel from his mom, dad, stepfather and Hawkins, as well as the NBA draft experts.

“He’ll make the right decision based on good information, not the bad information that kids used to get from agents,” Hawkins said. “Now they’re getting the information directly from the NBA people, not people just trying to make a buck.”