MULBERRY -- John Wilmoth is filling in his time during this extended break from school and athletics.
As a senior at Mulberry, he’s done for the year. He sent in the last bit of work about a week ago. Aside from trying to stay in shape, he’s doing a bit of painting, working in the flowerbeds for his dad and other outdoor work his family needs.
Wilmoth participated in just about everything… basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and even did a track and field for a couple of years.
“I got to experience it all to find what I liked,” Wilmoth said. “Golf is a good little pastime, but for me, it’s mainly basketball. It was a relationship I acquired and the brotherhood I had developed over the years. It’s from going to practice and to work with these other guys. I’ve been with some of these guys since we were little kids and to go on through district and a shot at state, so you share that with them. They also help you become better and make me want to be the best on the team.”
Wilmoth began playing basketball in the third grade and by the time he became a freshman he was ready to quit, but his dad and former coach Dexter Percy encouraged Wilmoth to keep going with it. By his senior year, he was putting about six to eight hours a day in the gym during the summer. “My goal was to get the team to the regional and we made it,” Wilmoth said.
Wilmoth played a role during his first two years on the Mulberry squad but emerged as one of the leading scorers on the team averaging 11.2 points per game.
“John is a worker. He was always in the gym on his own getting his shots up and it definitely paid off for him,” said first-year Mulberry coach Zack Zajicek. “If you combine his length and his work ethic, he has really made himself into a good offensive threat for us this year. He created some matchup issues due to his ability to play inside and out. He was also a leader for us in practice with his commitment and effort. His teammate could always count on him.”
However, Mulberry had a number of players who could step up and put up double digits on any given night.
The Yellow Jackets were without Dexter Percy, who had been a coach for the seniors since they were in eighth grade. However, it all worked out for the team as it finished 17-16 overall but was 7-5 in the 1A-4 Conference and earned a shot at the regional tournament.
“When we got the new coach, we didn’t what to expect from him,” said Wilmoth. “He wasn’t too hard with us. [Zajicek] loves to work with us and he loved the game so much so it made the practice fun. On and off the court he helped us achieve our goals. He really helped the seniors thrive this year and gave us an extra drive and it was something the underclassmen experienced as well.”
This season, Wilmoth said it was the return of a former player and a friend which made the difference for the Yellow Jackets and gave them a better season.
“We were really without a good point guard for the last two years. We had guys to step up and play that position, but really needed someone in that role,” he said. “When Cameron King returned, it was like we had all the pieces to make it to state if things went our way. We had the heart and the hustle to play with each other. No one cared who had the ball. It was all about getting the ball to the guy who was going to make a bucket when we needed it. Anyone on that team could drop 20 points in a quarter or in a game.”
He enjoyed his time playing in C.B. “Cotton” Havener Gym.
“Definitely love playing in the home gym,” he said. “To have that feeling to put on the jersey with your community’s name and play in front of them, to represent them on and off the court. It always gave me something to look forward to.”
Wilmoth got to pick up his first dunk this season in a game against Mt. Magazine. “We were up by a few and I told my team I was going to get a dunk in that game,” said Wilmoth. “About two plays later I got the ball as was able to break away and go coast-to-coast and got the dunk.”
Wilmoth is inspired by the play of Kobe Bryant. He even received his first pair of Kobe shoes from a cousin out in California.
“He was just so fun to watch all the tips and tricks that he did impact the way the game is played today,” Wilmoth said. “I was devastated for several weeks after we learned about his death. I just had to play through it… to represent him and the game. It really hit home when we had a game three days later. I did find a way to work through it by making a tribute to him on my wall with a lot of his achievements on it.”
While Wilmoth got to complete his season of basketball, his senior year ended abruptly. He empathizes with those who are missing out playing sports this spring amid the worldwide pandemic outbreak of COVID-19. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson closed the schools a week prior to Spring Break and the Arkansas Activities Association has instituted Dead Period to effectively ban players and coaches from meeting together.
“One of the things the previous coach [Percy] installed in us is mental toughness,” said Wilmoth. “It’s the ability to focus on the important stuff. That through the hard times, the bad plays and the mistakes made, we need to focus on what is important. We’ll go through a lot of adversity in basketball and in life, but we should always focus on what is important.”
Aside from his artwork and helping around the house, Wilmoth is also trying to find a place to play college basketball.
“Any advice I would give is to learn to love the game and find the relationships to help you be better,” Wilmoth said. “I should have been more driven to get better. I just did what I needed to do, but I should have been more involved, kept my head down and drive through those obstacles in life.”
Fun Questions with John Wilmoth
What is your biggest fear? Losing family members or people close to me.
If you could have any superpower what would it be? To be able to fly so won’t have to deal traffic
If you could have any kind of pet what would you want? Sea turtle in a big aquarium tank
What would you be rather doing instead of being quarantined at home? Definitely in basketball gym to get better for the next level, Uncle Dave open gym to do work whenever I want.
Biggest pet peeve? Being the second choice
Do you have any annoying habits? I don’t think so.
Who is your inspiration? My dad for sure.
What is the first thing you’ll do when this crisis or mess is all over? I like to travel to the coast. To stop in Colorado and visit both Washington and Florida.
Because there is free time… have you gotten caught up on any television shows or reading? Painting, spray paint painting as well as picking up music again, videos and bits and stuff.