Awakenings

It’s safe to say that Jack Wyatt was never a great fan of his alarm clock.
In fact, if he had nothing pressing on his schedule, he was likely to sleep in until 11 or 12, sometimes even 1.
 
“I am not a morning person,” the 2018 Collegiate graduate said, chuckling at the thought of the that-was-then, this-is-now change that’s come over his life in recent months.
 
Wyatt, you see, has a dream, and when his sophomore year at Hampden-Sydney College began this past fall, he quickly found that realizing that dream would involve – ready or not – an O-dark-hundred wake-up call.
 
“As you can imagine,” he said, also with a chuckle, “I was pretty nervous.”
 
Wyatt loves the game of basketball. He played in the Team Richmond Garner Road AAU program and for Collegiate, where he served as a captain, earned All-Prep League honors, and became only the fifth player in boys’ program history (after Jake McGee ‘10, Rick Wiltshire ‘64, Sanford Boisseau ‘68, and Gus Collier ‘70) to surpass the 1,000-point mark.
 
His senior year when the Cougars finished 21-6, he averaged 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. In a 78-61 victory over Amelia Academy in the Clover Hill Invitational, he scored 46 points (22-for-26 from the floor) and grabbed 16 rebounds, both career highs.
 
Wyatt knew the transition to college basketball would be tough. Little could he have imagined how tough it would actually be.
 
His freshman year, the Tigers, who play in the Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference, opened 4-2 but finished 4-19. At 6-8, 205, Wyatt played in 18 games, started one, and averaged 8.4 minutes, 3.8 points, and 1.4 boards per outing.
 
“I was miserable,” he said. “School wasn’t going well. Basketball wasn’t going well. I wasn’t playing much. I was getting pushed around a lot. I was thinking, What’s going on here?
 
Did we mention “wake-up call”?
 
In April, Caleb Kimbrough, late of Huntingdon College in Alabama, came on board as the Tigers’ new head coach. Young, energetic, and passionate, he brought a new staff, heightened expectations, and an emphasis on preparation, conditioning, and communication. Sensing a fresh start, Wyatt took Kimbrough’s prescribed summer training plan to heart and also worked on his skills in pick-up games at Collegiate.
 
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I felt good about myself after every workout.”
 
Then he returned to school and ran headlong into the first day of the rest of his basketball life.
 
“Pre-season workouts: five days a week, 6:30 a.m.,” he said. “We had to get up at 6 a.m. every day. I didn’t have much experience getting up early. We lifted and ran. I was, Oh, this is kind of intense.
 
How intense?
 
“Monday and Wednesday were conditioning,” he continued. “We began with a mile, then full-field sprints on the football field. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, we lifted to work on basketball-specific muscles.
 
“After a week, I thought, All right, if this is what I have to do to be successful, then I’m going to do it. I began to embrace the workouts. I didn’t look at them as something I had to do. I looked at them as something I wanted to do.
 
“I was getting in shape. I could tell I was getting stronger in pickup games. The biggest thing that’s changed is my confidence. This season, my confidence has been much higher than it was last season. I can honestly say that working out during the off-season has improved my game.”
 
Through 12 games, Wyatt, who now plays at a fit 220, has averaged 19.0 points, tops in the ODAC, and 7.5 rebounds as a starter. No one pushes him around anymore. He’s learned to create space and own that space. He competes as if on a mission. His stats and presence are a quantum leap from his rookie season when he chafed on the bench and each day seemed a grind.
 
“I don’t really think about statistics,” he said. “I’m obviously one of the main targets in the offense now, but I just do whatever I can to help my team.”
 
Just as Wyatt has shown great improvement, likewise have the Tigers. Saturday, they upset No. 21 Guilford 54-52 for their sixth consecutive win and now stand 7-5 (2-1 in the ODAC). They’re playing with heart and renewed effort and a never-quit mentality.
 
“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed the new coaching staff. I’ve enjoyed my team. The chemistry’s better. Plus, we’re winning. It’s awesome.”
 
So what advice would Wyatt give to the younger generation athlete who dreams of playing at the next level but finds that dream deferred or slipping away?
 
“Stick with it,” he said. “Even if there’re rough times. Even if things don’t go as planned. Honestly, you have to go to the gym on your own. You have to get shots up, get in the weight room. Even if you’re not playing right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t play later. Keep working hard. Good things will happen.”
     -- Weldon Bradshaw
        
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