By Eric Kolenich – Richmond Times Dispatch
Johquin “Pinky” Wiley made the L.C. Bird varsity basketball team as a freshman. But he didn’t play much at first. There was too much talent in front of him — such as Kenny Williams, a future North Carolina guard, and college-bound players C.J. Miles and Malik Johnson.
The only way Wiley would see the court, his coach told him, was if he played point guard. There were enough scorers ahead of him on the roster. What the Skyhawks needed was someone to distribute the ball and play defense. There was just one problem with that request.
“Pinky hated playing defense,” Bird coach Troy Manns said. “He was one of those guys, when the other team got the ball, he took a break. You can’t play here and not play defense. It’s not going to happen.”
Defense wasn’t Wiley’s strength as a middle schooler at Falling Creek. As an eighth-grader he was a scorer first, a guy who attacked the basket with intensity. To get any minutes on the floor as a ninth-grader, he’d need to make an adjustment.
It was a game against George Wythe that season, Manns remembers, when everything started to click for Wiley. He started playing the way coaches had asked him to, with the level of defensive intensity for which L.C. Bird is known.
Wiley split time at point guard with Johnson the rest of the season. Wiley proved he could bring the ball down the court, get it in his teammates’ hands and not make mistakes. But that ability didn’t come easily. It was forged each day in practice.
The older guys never went easy on him. The roster would be split into two teams, and Wiley frequently was forced to play against Williams, Miles and Johnson. At times, Wiley struggled to get the ball across half court. His older, stronger teammates bullied him with their defense. Compared to practicing against those guys, actual games weren’t always such a challenge.
“They helped me become the point guard that I am today,” Wiley said.
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