Monday, February 20, 2017

Tyler Wilson: The wind beneath Manhattan's wings for four years

Tyler Wilson, surrounded by family and friends following his final game at Draddy Gymnasium, one in which his Manhattan team won in authoritative fashion. (Photo by Jaden Daly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

RIVERDALE, NY -- The true mark of a leader is his or her ability to take charge by example, even if it does not garner the most attention.

Tyler Wilson was -- still is, since his career is not officially over, reflective of such a personality, one who is content to let his teammates shine while ensuring that the smaller tenets that make up a commitment to success are tended to in meticulous fashion.

The Bronx native and Cardinal Hayes product will almost never be the flashiest player on the court at any given point, but it has always been about substance with him before it ever was about style. And so it was that Manhattan paid homage to their stalwart Sunday at Draddy Gymnasium, heralding the formula that brought consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships to Riverdale when referencing one of the key cogs in not only brewing that elixir, but maintaining its potency through 126 games over four years.

"We would not have two championships and all this success if Tyler Wilson did not come to Manhattan," head coach Steve Masiello said in prefacing a heartfelt and emotional pregame ceremony whose focal point was Wilson, competing in his last home game of a career that sees him among the program's top ten assist leaders and certainly among its most unsung heroes. "He is the epitome of what goes into winning. He gets little credit, but he does all the dirty work. He's a guy I could call at 1:00 in the morning and he'll know where every player is. He has total control of the team."

Masiello's trust in Wilson has always been constant, and was placed on a pedestal the moment the six-foot floor general set foot on campus in the summer of 2013. Even with a proven incumbent in Michael Alvarado firmly entrenched with the keys to the offense, Wilson continued to grow by the steady hands and patient nurturing of Masiello and his staff, as well as his teammates. Rhamel Brown, who won three straight MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Awards and was perhaps the Jaspers' most valuable player, lauded Wilson's prescient court vision and ability to guide the troops on the hardwood, remarking on more than one occasion that he had never seen a 17-year-old so far ahead of his time in sizing up an opponent at the Division I level. The ability to steer the ship through daunting waters was backed up by a defensive aggressiveness that took no plays off, punctuated at its zenith by a high jump to secure the final rebound of Manhattan's second MAAC championship victory in 2015.

After his apprenticeship behind Alvarado and RaShawn Stores, both of whom have since transitioned from donning the uniform to joining the coaching staff, came to an end, Wilson embraced his opportunity to become the face of the program almost instantly.

"Coach always tells us to be leaders," he said in a businesslike tone following last year's season-ending loss to Siena in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament. "We should be more vocal."

Loyal soldier that he continues to be, he once again heeded Masiello's advice, taking on an added responsibility once classmate Rich Williams was shelved with a knee injury that cost him the entire season and forced him to redshirt. Some players can react adversely to the greater pressure, but for Wilson, it was simply business as usual, another challenge met head-on by the time of its completion.

They say time is a circle, and nowhere is that more evident than in analyzing Wilson's first and last MAAC home games. As a freshman against Monmouth in December 2013, he scored 15 points on a near-perfect 6-of-7 shooting afternoon. Getting the start on Sunday over three years later, the offense was there for seven points; but the five assists, three rebounds and two steals were vintage Tyler, the creator of opportunity among his teammates, putting the skill sets of others on display without caring for one second what his own numbers looked like.

"I've been proud of a lot of my guys, but I've never been as proud as I am of Tyler Wilson," Masiello reflected, each word genuine in its inflection. His teammates echoed their coach's quotes in their actions thereafter, not resting on their laurels and leaving no stone unturned in a 95-74 win over Quinnipiac to send Wilson off on one of the highest notes a regular season contest could provide.

"His whole career has been about effort, and everything we did was basically dedicated to Tyler," Masiello elaborated. "I thought the guys really exemplified great character in tough times to come out and play with a great effort, and I'm happy for Tyler that his last game at Draddy will be on the note he deserves, and that's that of a winner."

And when it came time for the guest of honor to address his four years, he once again cast himself aside to not only give his teammates their proper due, but promote the greater good.

"I'm thankful to play with great guys," he intoned, the humility ever-present. "I couldn't have asked for a better sendoff. There's no better feeling than winning. I feel like that's going to help us get on a run, and hopefully we'll win another one this year."

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