Sloan calls Wilkins the best offensive rebounder ever to play college ball and potentially the best ever. "The only one who comes close is Moses Malone," says the coach.
Malone and Wilkins work in different ways. Malone is the classic power player, who bangs his way into position from close range. Wilkins is a swooper, the classic small forward. The swooper does not position himself too close to the basket because he needs room to work around a boxout and time to read the shot. Wilkins works from 12 to 15 feet. He leaves his feet earlier than other potential rebounders and he has a hang time you wouldn't believe.
Wilkins is ideally suited to swooping. "I've worked at it very hard," he says. "I concentrate on reading where shots are likely to come off. I just seem to know. And I've worked very hard at different ways to spin off guys outside. I know I want to lay back a little, then just explode up there." Wilkins has an impressive vertical jump of 47 inches, and he was a 6'6" high jumper in high school. He also ran a 49-second 440 and a 22-second 220. In Durham's demanding preseason series of 20 220s, Wilkins' last one is never slower than 23 seconds. His pigeon-toed running style is no good for distance (his personal best in the mile is about 5:30) but he is unmatched in Durham's line drills, an exhausting test of speed and agility. A good time for the line drill is 25 seconds; Wilkins' is about 23 seconds.
Wilkins seems to have no real basketball weaknesses, aside from those associated with many offensive stars: His defense and shot selection are not the best. If he improves in these areas, he will be an even more attractive—and expensive—package for the pros next year.
Wilkins was closer to leaving college for the NBA last spring than people at Georgia would like to believe. The stay-in-school advice offered by Maurice Lucas, whom Wilkins met at the Omni in Atlanta and now considers a valued adviser, might have swung the tide. Part of Wilkins' reasoning was pragmatic: If he could command $400,000 a year after a good sophomore season, he should be able to get even bigger bucks after a better junior year. Barring a mysterious slip in play like that suffered last season by Maryland's Albert King, Wilkins is probably right. Another part of his thinking made even more sense: He wanted to remain a kid at least one more year.
"I just wasn't ready to give up college life," says Wilkins, leaning back against the wall of his dorm room, the 180 poster overhead. "I like the socializing, my friends, everything about it." He's doing average work in his courses, which include business education, psychology and arts and crafts—"my one crib." His favorite is Home Management, which includes a session on the 1040 tax form. "Guess I'll have to know something about this pretty soon," he says.
His room is a way station for the entire Georgia team, and particularly for Darryl Lenard, a 5'6" freshman point guard. "I'm like his father," says Wilkins. There is always music on Wilkins' box (Earth, Wind and Fire is his favorite), and jocular insults or talk of pretty women.
The contrasts between Herschel Walker, a good friend, and Dominique are stark. Walker, reserved by nature, is visited weekly by countless publications. Wilkins, gregarious and open, is barely noticed, so he has yet to become jaded.
Wilkins is a big man on campus but eminently approachable. He strolls in to watch the women's team practice, and several players drift over. "Ah, look at these little ears," teases Denise Dunlap, pulling at his lobes. "You ever see such a big man with such little ears?" Later, walking around campus with his sister, Wanda, a freshman, he makes eye contact with an attractive coed but decides against a major move. "She knows who I am," says Dominique.
Best of all for Wilkins, Durham's recruiting pitch has come true. There is only one Dominique Wilkins around Athens, as a lunchtime encounter in a local steakhouse bears out. "Dominique, I don't know whether you remember me or not, but we met after one of your games last year," says a middle-aged woman, stopping at his table. "I had my little granddaughter with me. She's 3. Anyway, the other day we were riding by The Coliseum [Georgia's basketball arena] and I stopped the car and said, 'Honey, do you know who plays there?' And she said, 'Dominique, Grandmom. Dominique plays there.' "