Damien is currently playing his thirteenth professional basketball season. He was the National High School player of the year in 1999 and played collegiately at North Carolina State and the University of Georgia. Initially signed by Seattle in 2004 (who later became the Oklahoma City Thunder), Damien has played with 5 different NBA teams and 10 years in the NBA overall. Damien is also notable due to his father Gerald’s thirteen year NBA career and his Hall of Fame uncle, Dominique Wilkins. He is currently playing for the Indiana Pacers.
April 8, 2015
JS -Describe the environment you grew up in?
DW - My mom and dad went to the same high school in Washington, North Carolina. As my Dad went off to pursue his basketball career in college and pros, my mom raised me as a single mother. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my Dad during that time. While Dad was playing in New York when I was growing up in a small community, in the projects where everyone knew everyone. It was really a "family oriented" hood where my mother had grown up, so basically she knew everyone. Still it was a hard place to grow up. I missed school sometimes due to either poor discipline or just because I was hungry. Mom had a job but we were just barely getting by and we didn't know how to get "more" of whatever we needed. It was tough.
JS - When did you realize "WHO" your dad and uncle were?
DW - I really didn’t pay attention to “who” he was, I just wanted my dad's attention because he was my dad. It didn’t really mean anything as to who he was until I moved in to live with him in 8th grade in Cleveland when he was playing with the Cavs and I got to see how he lived and where he played. So I didn't really appreciate, understand or comprehend that he was a well known pro and I definitely didn’t consider that I could be a part of it.
JS - How many school systems did you go to ....and why?
DW - I started in N.C., finished at Revere MS near Cleveland, Ohio, then I moved to Chatahoochie HS in Georgia when my dad went to Vancouver and I lived with my step mom (my Dads wife) in the Atlanta area. My sophomore year and junior year I went to St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, Maryland (which was a power house) and then finally at Doctor Phillips HS in Orlando, when my dad went to Orlando to play for the Magic.
It wasn't hard to move because I wasn't ever settled enough to get used to being in one place. It was easy for me to get along with everyone, even though I missed those who I had become friends with. It helped me cope with what I eventually had to do in basketball anyway. It actually also helped me to be recognized nationally by being in all those places.
Ultimately, I just wanted to be happy so I didn’t care where I lived. I just didn’t want to worry about the electricity or eating or anything else a child shouldn't have to worry about, so I was happy living anywhere that took me away from all that. It was a relief to have all that taken care of but I was still worried about what my mom was still going through.
JS - When did you start formulating basketball goals?
DW - I've always played basketball. It was always fun. In N.C. there were courts everywhere. It was kind of in my DNA with my uncle and father being good. But when I moved in with my father I realized how basketball was taking care of him and my family so that's when I got serious about what it could do for me and my mom. Once I started putting time into it I realized that basketball could realistically provide for me too. Also through basketball my dad and I formed our relationship. We were finally able to talk about life and us inside the gym. So basketball meant even more to me since it brought my dad and I together.
JS - Describe your first dunk and when?
DW - It was in 7th grade in North Carolina. It was at in our gym on our court. I just felt that day, while playing around in the gym, that I could do it – so I went and did it. It wasn’t really any more than that.
JS - Describe your most memorable experiences of your dad and uncle's career?
DW -My uncle Dominique’s Hall of Fame speech. He mentioned my name in the speech when I was sitting there in attendance. He said in front of all those thousands of people that he was proud of me and proud of what I had accomplished. He had never worked out with me or really talked to me much so all I could say was "wow". I had felt until that time that I might be letting him down by not being as great as he was. I wanted his acceptance. So to be there at the Hall at such a great moment and for him to give it (acceptance/approval) to me there was very memorable.
With my Dad it was the whole time we were in Orlando together. He was able to come and watch me play regularly pretty much for the first time while he was playing for the Magic. And then it was a bigger deal for me to see him more regularly and feel more worthy to be around him. By this time I finally understood the game and what he was doing, but we were also finally together during important times for me like when I became a McDonalds All-American and then needed help from him choosing a college.
They both accomplished so much. It was impressive. But what was most memorable about all those accomplishments was that I was finally able to share those moments with them. That was what was most important with me.
JS - How did you choose NC State?
DW - Mostly because it was near my mom since she was still living in N.C. My choices of colleges were between N.C. State, North Carolina, U Conn, Georgia Tech, and Florida. But though I liked them all the deciding factor was being only 1 1/2 hrs away from my mom so she could see me play.
JS - Why did you transfer to Georgia?
DW - After my soph yr I declared for the draft and went to the NBA pre-draft camp, but I got hurt there. Since I couldn’t perform at the camp, I decided to go back to school. But then my coach, Herb Sendak, called me (after he heard my plans) and told me that I wasn’t welcome back at school.
JS - Was he upset that you had left the team for the Draft, or maybe he was bitter?
DW - No he said that there had been some negative press after my announcement regarding some things my family had said about the way they had used me. He thought it would make it to awkward if I was to come back after all that. But it wasn’t too hard after that to just move on knowing how he felt.
JS - Describe your experience at Georgia?
DW - It was fun. I had tremendous respect for Coach Jim Harrick. He took care of his players and was a joy to play with. He was a player's coach. He made sure we had whatever we needed.
JS - Wasn’t there a scandal that took place during that time that kept Georgia out of the NCAA tournament?
DW - Yes. The week we were supposed to leave for the tournament coach let us all know that he still expected us to go to class and get work done that week. But one of our players got defiant during the mtg and decided not to attend class anyway. Coach found out and suspended him from the tournament right a couple days before we let.. Of course he (my teammate) was mad so he went to the press with accusations of his own. He told the press about all the extra things that he and others had been bought. He even showed them receipts like he had this planned. His accusations were accurate but I felt coach was unselfish and was helping guys who really needed it.
JS - Describe your path to the NBA.
DW - After I left Georgia, I went into the draft. I actually went to the actual draft in NY then didn’t get drafted at all. After it was over I just sat there in shock and in tears with my mom.
I didn’t really know what to do after that. I came home and just went back to the gym and began working. The gym was my therapy. Two weeks later I got a call from Coach Nate McMillan to come to Seattle’s camp (before they moved to Oklahoma City). He didn’t promise me much. They let me know there was a low chance to make the team. But I worked hard and they signed me for the year. By the end of the year they started playing me and with some guys injured I played a lot and in the playoffs.
Each year after that it's been almost the same thing, just fighting to be on a team. It's been tough the whole way. A lot of people would've given up. People have told me to maybe look to do something else. But I just couldn't see God taking me this far and go through all that I've gone through to quit. So I just keep working hard and trying.
JS -Give me your most memorable HS moment?
DW - Winning the national championship at Prospect Hall, my junior year(1998). We had to win a game against Oak Hill (we were #1 and they were #2) and the game was played at U. of North Carolina. We had Jason Capel, who went on to North Carolina and they had Steve Blake among others.
JS - College Moment?
DW - Probably not being allowed to play in the NCAA tournament just a couple days before we were supposed to leave was unforgettable. But on the positive side was the time when we played Georgia Tech at home when they were undefeated and ranked #3 in the country. I played well, they were a rival, and we ended up beating them.
Also, the first time playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke. It was loud, fun, and everything I looked forward to experiencing there....and we almost beat them.
JS - Which was the tougher conference at the time?
DW - The ACC
JS - How did you become acquainted with TEAM JAM?
DW - The other day I tried to go back and track it on the time line of my mind but it's hard to remember how it all started. But it was around the time I moved to Cleveland to be with my Dad. I didn’t understand the importance of a spiritual relationship with God at that age. My mom grew up with a strong relationship with God and we were church going and praying people, but as a kid I didn’t really "get" it. I believed in Christ because I knew I was supposed to but it didn’t mean anything to me yet.
So it wasn't until that time that I was getting to know you (John) that I started to understand the importance of God for myself through something else that happened at the same time. I was at my dad's house and got in an argument with Dad and walked away from my him and went to my room. For some reason I noticed my Bible in my room and took a look at it and it just happened to be open to the passage that said "Honor thy father and mother". It was more than a coincidence. When I saw my dad a few moments later, I apologized immediately. At that point I felt God had to exist. God connected with me at a time that I needed.
JS - What role has your experience with this ministry played in your life?
DW - It's a family. I come across people all the time that have been a part of this family and the spiritual family of God. We may be strangers to each other but we have a common goal to get closer to the Savior and work for His honor and glory. We grow things together from a distance and then run into each other.
My relationship is with you (John), for the most part, and no matter how long we go with out speaking or where we travel, we pick up like business as usual where we just left off. And its a blessing to have other people who are in my corner rooting for me that don’t even really know me and that don’t want anything from me in return.
I know people think of me as a good guy and I've always been an unselfish guy, but I know I'm a sinner and I fall short and I need God. So after all that God has done for me and all the people that he has put in my place, how could I not respect the people that he brings to me and what He has done for me, especially my parents - even if I don't always get everything that I want.
When teammates express respect, or what I mean to them, or my effort and game, it means a lot to me that I'm supposed to be with whoever I play with and that I treat them right while I'm with them. I believe that my God will take care of me. I won’t give up on believing that God will bless my perseverance and hard work.
JS - How and when did you surrender your life to Christ as your Savior?
DW - I've done it about 3 or 4 times. It might be a good or bad thing but I go back to Him if I feel I’ve strayed too far away. The first time was in college right after I saw the movie “The Passion of Christ” and I went back to the dorm room at Georgia. I was completely lost in my thoughts in silence. i got down on my knees in my dorm room, without words, was really emotional, and then I finally prayed for him to be my Lord and Savior.
Over the yrs I've prayed again when I felt I needed to or when I’m going through some tough things like when dealing with this year’s challenges. So this year I prayed after listening to church on line and I responded to the pastors' challenge.
JS - Whats the best advice handed down to you by other players/coaches/ parents?
DW - Don’t let anyone tell you that your goals aren't attainable. If it can be done then I can do it. And at some time, I've always proved myself right. Hard work, dedication and discipline will always have a way of rewarding you.
JS - Whats the best spiritual advice you have for young people?
DW - Read the book of Job (in the Bible) when you think life is hard.
NBA Veteran - 10 years
U. of Georgia
North Carolina State, All-ACC
1999 National Player of the Year (Bob Gibbons)
Proud father of 3.
2017-18 - Indiana Pacers
2016-17 - Greenville Storm (D-league)
2015-16 - Guaros De Lara
2015- U.S. National Team - Pan American Games
2015 - D-league All-Star
2014-15 -Iowa Energy (D-league)
2014 - Puerto Rico
2014 - Atlanta Hawks
2013-14 - Beijing (China)
2012-13 - Philadelphia 76ers
2011-12 - Detroit Pistons
2010-11 - Atlanta Hawks
2009-10 - Minnesota Timberwolves
2007 - Career high 41 pt game
2004-09 - Seattle /Okl.City
2001-04 - U. of Georgia
Transfers to Georgia
1999-01 - N.C. State
1998-99 - Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.)
1st team - Florida 6A All-State
National Recruiting Class 1999
1996-98 - St. John's Prosp. Hall (Md)
1995-96 - Chatahoochie HS (Ga.)
D-league Stats (2014-15)