Thomas Wilder probably didn't make many preseason watch lists in 2014, but fast forward a year and he's number 24 on our countdown of the 25 best players in the conference. Wilder was named to the All-MAC Freshman team for 2014-2015, and the Sophomore from Montgomery, Illinois will look to improve on an impressive close to the season and emerge as a go to option in the half-court for the Broncos this season.
Wilder isn't the type of guard Bronco fans are used to seeing run the show. He is lightning quick, and possesses an uncanny ability to get to the middle of defenses with relative ease and creativity. The archetype of guards the program seems to be betting its future on. One look at Wilder's game reveals a player with an advanced level of confidence for a player his age, and an impressive knack for finding open spots on the floor. Sometimes it feels as though he's playing a different game. Wilder is a deceptive and shifty guard that is a tough assignment for even the best of defenders in the MAC.
When Wilder first arrived on campus, he was known more for his shooting ability despite his impressive skill set handling the ball. But as the season progressed Bronco fans could see star potential in the young guard, just waiting for his opportunity to burst on the scene. It took some time, but with a combination of injuries, sickness, and a general sense of urgency for the team to make a run at a second straight MAC West title late in the season, Wilder began seeing large chunks minutes and turned those opportunities into instant production. With seven games left, Wilder announced his arrival as a future star with a 34 point, zero turnover explosion against the Toledo Rockets. Albeit in a loss, Wilder was without question the heir apparent to David Brown as a scoring guard.
The rest of the seven game stretch to close the season showed Wilder's full capabilities, whether it was getting to the basket, shooting the three, pulling up in traffic or making the most of trips to the free throw line, Wilder had it all, averaging 24 points per game. The Broncos were a more competitive team because of it. Wilder makes the team, and the program, better. It may have been concerning to Western Michigan Basketball fans that David Brown had (finally) exhausted his NCAA eligibility, but the emergence of Wilder as a scoring point guard should calm some of the nerves.
That's probably what's most impressive with Wilder - his fearlessness occupying the production void left by David Brown. On nights where Brown was a no show, Wilder projected confidence and decisiveness with the basketball, taking tough shots and making the difficult decisions when somebody needed to. Half court offense is often about getting the best shot possible, but you can't understate the value of a player that can make shots that seemingly are unavailable. That's the role Wilder can play for WMU, and he wears the hat well.
The MAC tournament loss to Akron last season is a good example of this. The Bronco offense was as close to non existent as one could imagine for a division one basketball team, and unwilling to accept the struggles Wilder stepped up and attempted tough shots where many guards his age would shy away. He's simply fearless, and a dangerous weapon to be given close attention by the rest of the MAC. The shots are going to fall, and it will be special when they do.
Wilder is probably a year away from being the undisputed leader of the program going forward - that title belongs to incumbent senior Connar Tava - but possesses the skills and creativity needed to lead the team back to another MAC championship. If you need a reason to believe this is far from a "rebuilding" year for the Broncos, look no further than Thomas Wilder.