DE SMET, S.D. (KELO) — Our first KELOLAND All-Star boys basketball Player of the Year finalist is De Smet’s Damon Wilkinson, who overcame a major life event to become one of the best bigs in South Dakota.

Thanks to his 6’6″ frame, Damon Wilkinson began making a name for himself off the bench as a sophomore in 2020.

“He was pushing to be in the starting lineup when it happened and that maybe set him back just a little bit. That year, he never really did crack the starting lineup. He came in and out, played a ton of minutes, but every day in practice he was trying to get in there,” De Smet head coach Jeff Gruenhagen said.

The setback for Wilkinson involved a hunting accident. He was shot in the lower abdomen from 15 yards away.

“I was in shock right away so I didn’t feel it. My brother was right there, my freshman brother and he was like, ‘that’s the worst scream I’d every heard in my life.’ I thought I went down slowly and gently in my mind, but to him, he thought I dropped there and then dead,” Damon Wilkinson said.

Damon at the hospital – 2020

“Kalen Garry called me and the first thing he says is, ‘hey, Damon’s been shot.’ He didn’t really elaborate if he was okay or what was going on,” Gruenhagen said.

Wilkinson was flown to Sioux Falls, where he had surgery to remove five BBs.

“I had 80 BB holes and they had to take two out of my bladder and then a couple more during our surgery because it could affect something, but they left 75 of them in. They’re still in to this day,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson hasn’t had any long-term effects from the accident, but it did serve as a great life lesson.

“That kind of hit home to me, because that could’ve been me. You never know when your last time on the court will be. That just motivated me to go harder and harder every day,” Wilkinson said.

That motivation helped Wilkinson emerge as one of the top bigs in South Dakota. The now 6’10” senior posted 22 points and 13 rebounds per game this season.

“He had some great games this year and even if he couldn’t get to the rim, sometimes it’s just really physical and people are making a point to not let him get there. His midrange game was good and he was hitting a few threes,” Gruenhagen said.

That performance, paired with a third straight class ‘B’ state championship earned Wilkinson a spot as a finalist for Player of the Year.

“Some people don’t get to experience a state tournament, let alone a championship game, let alone win it. We won it three times in a row. There’s no better way to go out,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson has committed to play at SDSU next season.

The boys Player of the Year will be announced in our KELOLAND Media Group Player of the Year Special, which airs on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.