In his third college basketball game, Laurel resident AJ Wilson, 20, missed his only shot from the field and committed two fouls in just seven minutes of action against Binghamton.
The next day at practice he had a conversation with George Mason University head coach Dave Paulsen.
“I felt at that point he was being too hard on himself,” Paulsen noted. “There are so many great players from this area. He is looking around at other kids he knows and comparing himself to them.”
The message must have resonated with Wilson, who attended Deerfield Run and Montpelier elementary schools in Laurel.
The next day, after talking to Paulsen, and two days after the Binghamton game, Wilson came off the bench to make five of seven shots from the field and score 12 points with a game-high eight blocks in 22 minutes of action against Cal State-Northridge.
“I am going to take credit for all eight blocks,” Paulsen joked.
George Mason won in overtime, but perhaps more importantly, it helped jump start the season for the 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman forward Wilson.
Wilson had his first career double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in a career-best 26 minutes in a loss at home to Georgia Southern on Dec.12.
He came off the bench in the first 12 games to average 12.6 minutes, 3.4 points and three rebounds per contest.
Wilson is in his second straight season with the Mason program. He sat out last year as a redshirt.
That is unusual consistency for Wilson, who attended Bowie High as a freshman, DuVal High, in Lanham, asa sophomore, Montrose Christian, in Rockville, as a junior and ELEV8 Prep Academy, in Florida, for his last year of high school.
Wilson averaged 12 points at DuVal, 10 points per contest at Montrose Christian and 7.5 rebounds per game as a senior in Florida.
“You definitely have to establish who you are as a basketball player and as a student,” he said.
Even through all of that upheaval, Wilson knew he wanted to play at Division I George Mason.
He can vaguely remember the Final Four team at Mason in 2006 that started five players from Maryland. A redshirt on the Patriots that season was John Vaughn, a former Laurel High basketball and football standout.
“Mason has always been up there,” said Wilson, who is majoring in sports management. “That was at the top of my list. It has always been a dream of mine since I was 6 or7.”
He was also recruited by Virginia Commonwealth and Rhode Island, a pair of top programs in the Atlantic 10 Conference, but Mason won out.
What was the hardest thing about last season?
“Definitely having to sit out and watch,” he said. “I never had to do that before; having to learn the game without being in the game. That was the hardest part.”
One of the Mason assistant coaches is Duane Simpkins, a former guard at the University of Maryland who was an assistant coach at Towson University.
Wilson said that his father, Anthony Wilson,Sr., used to play against Simpkins at a military facility in Bethesda.
Simpkins remembers watching clips online of the younger Wilson playing as a sophomore at DuVal.
“His athleticism jumped off the charts,” Simpkins noted.
Wilson comes from an athletic family. His parents played basketball in college and his sister plays at Division II Francis Marion in South Carolina.
“My dad always told me about him,” Wilson said of Simpkins, who played at powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville.
Wilson is a versatile performer who is beginning to understand his role with the Patriots, who host Morgan State on Dec. 22 in non-conference play.
“Crashing the glass and spotting up the three [point shot] and attacking the rim,” Wilson said. “There are not too many guys that can do all that. I have to take that to my advantage.”
Listening to his coaches also pays off, as he learned after a subpar outing against Binghamton.
Wilson has adjusted to coming off the bench at Mason, picked to finish eighth in the 14-school Atlantic 10 Conference.
“I think he is doing a great job,” Paulsen said. “We are really pleased with him. I think he is starting to scratch the surface with what he is doing.”