Kenny Wilson and his son Garrett were having a friendly debate about the greatest basketball player of all time.
While watching the recent NBA Finals together, Garrett — a multisport athlete who just finished his junior year at Lake Travis High School — built a case for his favorite player, Cleveland icon LeBron James. Kenny, who played in the NBA in the 1980s, gave Michael Jordan the nod.
“You’re just a prisoner of the moment,” Kenny told his son.
“You’re just a prisoner of the past,” Garrett responded.
They laughed at each other and continued to watch the game.
Garrett Wilson has never needed a holiday to celebrate Father’s Day. The Cavaliers’ star wide receiver — and the No. 1-ranked recruit in the state on the American-Statesman’s Fabulous 55 list; he has committed to Ohio State — has blazed a trail of football stardom, and his dad has been his constant shadow. And he’ll continue to walk a step behind.
While all five of Kenny and Candace Wilson’s children — Shea, Cameron, Donovan, Garrett and Sydney — have succeeded athletically, Garrett has become transcendent. He’s not a one-sport wonder. Also a dynamic basketball player, he led Lake Travis to a 30-8 record before the Cavaliers fell to Westlake in the Class 6A, Region IV championship game in March. And he ran track in the spring.
While basketball remains a passion for Wilson — he was offered scholarships by Tennessee for football and basketball — he is best known for his artistry as a receiver. Last fall he had 98 catches for 1,774 yards while accounting for 32 total touchdowns to help Lake Travis reach the Class 6A, Division I state championship game.
His spectacular sideline catch in the title game against Allen was named ESPN’s play of the day, one honor Wilson described as “a dream come true.”
SMU was the first football team to offer Wilson a scholarship. That was hardly a surprise considering SMU coach Chad Morris — who has since taken over at Arkansas — was a two-time state championship coach at Lake Travis.
That began an avalanche of more than 30 offers from teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, TCU, Florida, USC, Nebraska and Texas.
Kenny Wilson had a feeling Garrett might be a special athlete after a family cruise about eight years ago.
Kenny already knew something about talent. He had a successful career of his own, scoring 1,573 points at Davidson College, which ranks him seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. He was inducted into the Davidson Hall of Fame in 2004. He also had a brief career in the NBA, playing for the Denver Nuggets and Washington Bullets.
So what happened on the ship?
He and his three older sons played pickup basketball games against other cruise patrons. The Wilsons won every game with ease until the other teams asked whether they could “even out” the disparity of talent. So Kenny suggested each team add a fifth player.
“The other teams thought they’d have more of an advantage when I selected Garrett to be our fifth guy,” he recalled. “He was only 9 or 10.”
The Wilson family continued to dominate the ship games, and young Garrett played a prominent role.
“Garrett was better than 90 percent of the adults who were playing,” Kenny said.
Garrett was born in Chicago but spent most of his formative years in Columbus and Dublin, Ohio. He remembers playing in a youth football league in Dublin for a team called the Titans and scoring three touchdowns in a game.
“Kenny and Garrett have always been very close,” Candace said. “They were always watching sports or talking about sports.”
Candace recalls a family trip to Davidson in 2009. Kenny introduced 8-year-old Garrett to a sharpshooting guard who would eventually become an NBA legend.
Steph Curry, a Davidson senior, had a brief chat with Garrett.
“All he told me was to make sure I stayed in school,” Garrett said.
The Wilsons moved to Austin when Garrett was preparing for the sixth grade. When he attended a Lake Travis football game during his first year in town, he knew he wanted to be a Cavalier someday.
“I’d never seen anything like Texas high school football before,” he said.
Yet when it came time to choose a college, Wilson experienced a conflict between two of college football’s most storied programs — Texas and Ohio State. He still holds fond memories of watching the Buckeyes at old Ohio Stadium. But after living in Austin for almost half of his young life, he also has developed close ties with Texas.
Kenny, however, said he knew long ago that his son would choose Ohio State.
“In my opinion, Garrett was in a no-lose situation,” Wilson said. “I believe that Tom Herman and Texas football will be great in the future. Ohio State is already there.”
Being a prolific athlete does have some drawbacks, Garrett said. He missed his junior prom last month because his seven-on-seven team from Houston was playing in a tournament in California. He’s had to skip parties and family functions. He will most likely miss his senior prom, too, because he plans to enroll at Ohio State in January.
A new life chapter will begin.
Wilson will be armed with more than football skills when he moves back to Columbus. He’ll take a family bond that doesn’t diminish over long distances. Beginning in 2019, Kenny and Candace Wilson plan to attend as many Buckeyes games as they can.
“Garrett is a very good person, a nice boy, a good guy,” Kenny said. “I have a lot of respect and regard for him. I don’t look at it like a father-son relationship. I look at it more as a friendship.
“I never had to be a dad to tell him to clean up his room, do his homework, come home on time. He’s a no-nonsense boy, and I’m very fortunate he’s my son.”
BEST OF THE BUNCH
The American-Statesman released its 12th annual list of the top 50 high school athletes in Central Texas this week. The previous athletes of the year were:
2017: Virginia Kerley, Taylor — basketball, track and field
2016: Jav Guidry, Cedar Park — football, track and field
2015: Travis Brannan, Vandegrift — football, track and field
2014: Jace LaCaille, Georgetown — football, wrestling
2013: Madie Boreman, Rouse — cross country, soccer, track and field
2012: Kourtney Bevers, Liberty Hill — cross country, basketball, softball
2011: Connor Sheehan, Anderson — football, baseball
2010: Mark Jackson, Taylor — football, basketball, track and field
2009: Dax Hill, Round Rock — basketball, swimming
2008: Amanda Dowdy, Lexington — volleyball, basketball, track and field
2007: Jeremy Kerley, Hutto — football, basketball, track and field, baseball