The Fro. The man. The legend.
Mike Wilder is fro-tastic. He is fro-lific. He is fro-tabulous. And this is fro-terrible.
If you have no idea who is being described, then you’ve been living under a rock. Michael Wilder is one of the many faces of the Anteaters’ 2012-2013 basketball team. The senior guard out of Wilson High School is making his mark both on and off the court. With an outstanding start to the 2012 campaign, Wilder and his teammates have made UCI’s basketball team a force to be reckoned with.
Born in Long Beach, California, Wilder started playing basketball when he was just 10 years old, following in the footsteps of his father.
In the 11 years Wilder has been playing organized basketball, he has only had one consistent pre-game ritual — nap.
Before every game, Wilder takes an hour-and-a-half nap from approximately 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., even on the road. As bizarre as that may seem, Wilder’s on-court performance cannot be denied.
Just last week against no. 13 ranked UCLA, Wilder had a team-high 23 points to go along with five rebounds and a steal.
There are so many accolades and achievements that Wilder has attained, but it’s his work off the court that sets him apart from other athletes.
Wilder earned admission to UCI based on academics alone, and was planning on playing as a walk-on for the basketball team when a scholarship opened up just a few months before he was set to enroll in classes. As a psychology and social behavior major, Wilder has great aspirations to be a child therapist, but not before he can squeeze every ounce of basketball out of his body.
Wilder’s love for basketball extends much past the hardwood of the Bren Events Center; after his time at UCI, Wilder intends to play professional basketball in Europe.
“I want to continue to play, as long as my body will allow me to,” Wilder said. “Hopefully that is the way it works out.”
For now, Wilder is one of the most recognizable faces of UCI basketball. It’s not just the afro that he’s been rocking since eighth grade, nor the full beard he has going for him. Wilder has a certain type of presence to him that isn’t solely due to his 6-foot-2-inch frame. He relishes his role as a leader on the team. For Thanksgiving, Wilder took a few of his teammates back to his house in Long Beach and enjoyed some time together there. Sure, Wilder’s afro and beard make him stand out when he is walking around campus, but it’s his charisma and kindness that make him stand out among his teammates.
Wilder is playing in his last year at the collegiate level, and he is enjoying every minute of it.
“I’ve embraced [the social life] to the fullest. It’s been a collective effort between some of the older guys and myself, to change the culture both on the court and off the court,” Wilder said.
Wilder is an active member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity on campus, and he is very involved in campus activity. He is relishing his last year in Irvine, and uses his position on the team to change the dynamics of UCI athletics.
According to Wilder, student support in the past has been “almost nonexistent,” and the players need the energy of the fans to feed off of. Wilder doesn’t want to change the culture for the current UCI squad, but wants students and fans to get engaged with the team in order to set a precedent for the years to come.
In a way, Wilder wants to leave his mark on UCI long after he’s gone. He’s convinced that this year’s team has the talent to compete at the highest level and wants to prove that to the students, but they need to show up first.
“Experience is definitely a big factor for us. This year’s squad has been together for a couple years now, and with the addition of a new freshman, we are confident every time we step out on the court,” Wilder said when asked whether he felt like this team was capable of competing at the highest level of Division I basketball.
Wilder definitely has a point. Who would have thought, going into the game against UCLA, that the Anteaters would have a chance to win the game in regulation time and then lose by only one point in the overtime period? A loss is a loss, but to take a heavily favored UCLA team to overtime is definitely an accomplishment these young men can be proud of.
“Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, I felt that we executed well, we played together as a team, we were poised, which is something we were lacking a little bit more last year. We’re a much more experienced team, and that’s going to be a big strength of ours,” Wilder said.
Their work in the off-season is showing so far this season. The Anteaters presently stand at a misleading 0.500 mark, but their performance against UCLA was just a glimpse of the raw talent that this team has.
There is something different about this team. The talent level is undeniable, but this year’s team has something other teams didn’t: a certain swagger, a type of determination that only comes with adversity. You can hear it in Wilder’s voice as he talks about their work in the off-season, you can see it in Daman Starring’s eyes as he takes jump shots hours after practice. This team has the talent and the desire to change the dynamic of basketball at UCI, and led by Wilder, they intend to do just that.