When one thinks of Wake Forest basketball over the past four years it is likely of a few different players. Most people would probably say John Collins, Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Bryant Crawford, or a handful of other players who have come and gone from the program since Danny Manning took over.
One name that most people would not say is Mitchell Wilbekin, the senior out of Gainesville, Florida, or as every single announcer likes to say “the brother of Scottie Wilbekin, former Florida basketball player”.
While I don't blame anybody for not immediately bringing up Wilbekin, I wanted to write an article about his play and what he has meant to the program.
Wilbekin originally committed to Danny Manning when he was the head coach of Tulsa on September 16th. 2013. He was a three-star recruit out of The Rock School in Gainesville, and the 265th ranked player in the class of 2014 according to 247Sports.
When Wake Forest announced Manning as its head coach on April 14th, 2014, Wilbekin decommitted from Tulsa soon after. Manning offered Wilbekin a Wake Forest scholarship on April 24, 2014, and Wilbekin committed to the Deacs on May 5th, 2014 after a visit to Winston-Salem.
The dedication to Manning and who he is as a coach paid off from the start. From day one the 6-2, 180 pound Wilbekin has been a stalwart for the Demon Deacons, playing in 99 career games in the Old Gold and Black
Tomorrow will be the 100th career game for Wilbekin in a Wake Forest uniform, having missed just four games in his career (three his freshman year, one last year against Duke).
Looking just at the raw numbers for his career doesn’t really do justice to what Wilbekin brings to the court. Although he has averaged between 7 PPG - 8 PPG throughout his entire career, his efficiency and ability to hit the long ball is something that Wake has desperately needed at times during his career.
His ability to score inside is certainly not a strong suit, but his three-point shooting has left no questions at all in the minds of Wake fans, shooting 38% in his career from behind the three-point line.
Wilbekin currently ranks 8th on the all-time three-pointers made list in Wake Forest history, and has a good chance to move up to 6th place before his career is over.
The names in front of him are nothing to scoff at either: C.J. Harris (who he will pass with four more threes), Taron Downey, Craig Dawson, Tony Rutland, Justin Gray, Robert O’Kelley, and of course, current assistant coach Randolph Childress.
If he is somehow able to hit 59 more threes then he will tie Archie Miller for 50th in ACC history in three-pointers made, passing a litany of well-known ACC players like Matt Harpring, Tim Pickett, Tom Gugliotta, Steve Blake, and many more. Even if he doesn’t he will likely end up in the top 75 on that list, which is extremely impressive in itself.
Assuming he goes 41/100 (41%) to get to 200 career three pointers made, his career three-point percentage of 38.4% would rank 15th all-time in the ACC and second in Wake Forest history, only behind Randolph Childress (39.8%).
Wilbekin has improved every year that he has been on campus from an efficiency standpoint, going from a 106.6 offensive rating his freshman year, to 109.4 as as sophomore, to 115.1 as a junior, and now 119.7 as a senior.
Last year he shot 41% from behind the three-point line on the season, and he is 42% right now through 7 games. While his skill set may be limited overall, he has maximized his talents and has settled in as a sharpshooter that teams have to defend to the perimeter and beyond.
Wilbekin started nearly every game his freshman year, and started every single game as a sophomore, yet when Keyshawn Woods transferred from Charlotte last year and proved that he should be the starting shooting guard 9 games into the year, Wilbekin moved to the bench without a peep and shot even better after he shifted over to the sixth man.
This year he is once again in the starting lineup with Woods coming off the bench after a switch-up in the Paradise Jam.
Although he is not somebody who takes the game over very frequently, his three-pointers in the last four years have been timely and much needed. The biggest three in his career is likely the one he hit late in the shot clock against Louisville last year to put the Deacs up 9 with just over two minutes left in the game and help clinch the first NCAA Tournament for Wake Forest since 2010.
He served as a representative at the ACC Basketball Media Day this year and was a fantastic representation of Wake Forest.
Aside from hitting the deep ball, Wilbekin is fantastic at protecting the basketball, ranking 41st individually as a sophomore, 122nd as junior, and currently 68th in the nation in turnover rate.
Wilbekin has drawn the ire of some Wake fans over the past four years for who he is not and what he is not capable of doing, but I wanted to celebrate him for who he is and what he does do very well—-he’s a great three-point shooter, ball-handler, and exceptional teammate that has put the greater good of the team over himself for four years.
He is who he is at this juncture, a low usage player who gets after it on defense and is reliable on offense when needed. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, which is very helpful towards the end of the game, as well as his 83% career free-throw shooting.
I applaud the efforts of Mitchell Wilbekin these past four years and when he has played his last game as a Demon Deacon, he will be one of the players that I look back on and remember very fondly as a player.