Cairns Taipan fans have fond memories of Scottie Wilbekin almost leading them to their first NBL championship.
The Gainesville native was twice named NBL Player of the Week and once Player of the Month during his short but memorable time in far north Queensland. At seasons end Wilbekin was also named the Taipan’s Defensive Player of the Year amd Most Valuable Player, cementing his huge role in the team’s success. Oh, he was also named to the All-NBL First Team.
Scottie Wilbekin, the 6’2″ (188cm) guard should be accustomed to this kind of individual acclaim. Don’t forget he led the Florida Gators to the 2014 Final Four, snared an SEC Player of the Year and SEC Tournament MVP to his list of accomplishments and averaged 13 points and 4 assists during a memorable senior season.
A “D and Three” NBA guy if there ever was one, surprisingly went undrafted after his senior year at college. The NBA scouting reports stating he was “just not quite tall or strong enough to make the floaters happen on a consistent basis in the NBA”.
Despite the naysayers Wilbekin still has his sights set on the NBA and credits his time with the Taipans and a brief stint in Greece as steps he needed to take to get there.
“Australia was a lot of fun. I was on a great team over there. We had great chemistry, so it was an easy transition from being at Florida,” Wilbekin said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We had a good year. We were projected to finish last, and we ended up having the No. 1 record (21-7) and made it all the way to the championship.”
Individually, Wilbekin’s year was better than just “good.” He averaged 14.7 points per game along with 4.4 assists and led the Taipans to their first playoff appearance in four years, eventually to the New Zealand Breakers.
Now after taking a short stop in Greece once the NBL had wrapped up Wilbekin is back in Florida pursuing his NBA dream as a member of the Orlando Magic’s Summer League team.
He is optimistic about the opportunity with the Magic.
“It’s nice to be playing for Orlando, close to Gainesville. I’m looking forward to playing some games,” Wilbekin said. The Summer League begins Saturday.
The experience he gained playing in Australia and Greece was beneficial to his development as a player, he said.
Wilbekin has been in Gainesville working out with current and former members of the Florida basketball team. He also got the chance to meet the new coaching staff.
“I did talk with all the coaches, and (coach Michael White) was really appreciative of us coming back, because Pat (Young) came back and Casey (Prather) came back, too and I was playing pick-up with them,” Wilbekin said. “(White) was really appreciative of us coming back and said we’re always welcome there.”
Wilbekin likes what he sees from the new era of Florida basketball.
“I watched (White) work out the guys, and he seems pretty good with them,” Wilbekin said. “All the players like him, so it seems like it’s a good fit.”