FAIRBORN — Most people who get to watch a Wright State basketball practice — the head coach’s dad, media members, a faculty member — sit in one of the few chairs along the wall in the Mills Morgan Center.
Those with extra juice — a big-time booster, a top administrator — get entry to the special viewing room with its leather couches, plasma TV and picture window looking out onto the court.
Then there’s Marianna Wilson. She’s Raiders’ royalty.
When she sets up in that room, the TV is turned to her favorite afternoon cartoon show, she gets private attention from a team manager and her playpen is pushed up to the picture window glass.
That way she can watch and coo “Da-da” every time her favorite Raider trots past.
Today, here’s a basketball story for you that’s also a love story.
“I’m a big believer in Valentine’s Day,” said 6-foot-6 junior forward Scottie Wilson. ‘I’m pretty in tune with the whole hearts-and-flowers thing.”
No wonder. After Tuesday’s practice, he had two valentines waiting for him: Natasha Thomas — his high school sweetheart and his fiance — and Marianna, the couple’s 19-month-old daughter.
Thomas was there only because the snowstorm had canceled her Sinclair Community College classes. For Marianna, though, this was old hat. Trying to save a little money now and then, Scottie sometimes picks her up from day care and brings her along with him.
“Every once in a while Scottie plays the proud father and brings his daughter around,” WSU head coach Brad Brownell said. “Obviously, he has more on his plate than the normal college player, but he makes no excuses. He does his job as a student-athlete, and I think he’s being a good father, too.”
Scottie and Natasha met at Middletown High School when he was a junior and she a freshman. They’ve been together seven years, and in that time Scottie has had some unexpected breaks — literally and not — in his basketball career.
Before his senior season at Middletown, he broke his foot and had it pieced back together with four permanent screws. After that he went through a season and a coaching change at Cincinnati State Community College, then the same thing — along with sitting out a transfer year and paying his own way — at Wright State.
This season he broke his hand in the St. Bonaventure game — an injury that cost him four games and added three more screws.
While he’s had double-digit scoring and rebounding games at WSU, he now comes off the bench as a power forward or undersized center — he’s averaging 4.6 points, 3.5 rebounds — and Saturday he played a part in the upset of No. 10 Butler.
“He’s just a great kid, probably too nice,” Brownell said. “On the court we’d like him to be a little meaner, but honestly that’s not his personality. He’s a decent, loving guy.”
You saw that Tuesday when he swept his daughter into his arms after practice, and you heard it when he quietly talked about the Valentine gift he has for Natasha back at their apartment.
You especially heard it when he told their engagement story:
“I thought I had the perfect hiding spot for the ring. I put it in an old book bag I had in my car. But then Natasha needed something from the trunk, and when she opened it and saw it was pretty messy, she cleaned it up. She put some papers in the book bag and Voila! There it was.”
Natasha smiled: “I didn’t say anything. I just let him do his own thing.”
It’s the same approach she follows when she and Marianna come to Raiders’ games. They sit behind the bench, and every once in a while Scottie might slip past for a pregame kiss from his daughter.
“I play it by ear,” he said. “Game nights you want to stay focused. That’s important now. We’re on a roll, and if we take care of business, we can win the league, and then I’ll have a ring, too.”
After all, this is a basketball story, too.