Most college basketball players have some sort of pregame ritual they go through before the ball tips off on game day. Some toss on the headphones and get lost in their music, while others may spend some quiet time in a far corner of the locker room as they prepare to mix it up on the hardwood.
Tyler Wilson’s ritual consists of strolling out to the court before the game and scanning the crowd until he locates his mom, Natasha, and dad, Marvin. At home games, they are not hard to find, as they normally occupy seats right behind the Manhattan College in the same section of Draddy Gym.
Road games? That’s a different story. Nastasha and Marvin can be anywhere, and Tyler’s scanning of the crowd becomes a much longer proposition. But he always finds them because they are always there. Whether the Jaspers are playing in Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, Wilmington, North Carolina or Moraga, California, the one constant is Natasha and Marvin Wilson. They are a small representation of Jaspers Nation wherever they go.
“We’ve been doing this since he was 5 years old,” Natasha Wilson said at Draddy Gym recently. “I was the team mom on his AAU team.” And Marvin was the assistant coach. For the Wilsons, basketball is truly a family affair.
There is no exact count of how many games Natasha and Marvin Wilson have attended to see Tyler play. But the Wilsons have certainly put a ton of miles on the family car while also accumulating a large haul of frequent flyer miles.
“I always come out looking for them before the game,” said Tyler Wilson, who recently moved into eighth place on Manhattan’s all-time assists list. “I love it that they come to all my games. It’s special to me.”
The Wilsons started taking in all of Tyler’s games—all of them—when he played in grade school, continued during his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) years with the famed Gauchos program in the South Bronx and the New Heights program in Washington Heights, extended into his high school career at Cardinal Hayes High School and continues to this day with the Jaspers.
“When he played with his AAU teams, there were trips to Las Vegas,” Marvin Wilson said, the big smile on his face telling you all you needed to know about that trip. You know—what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Other locales the Wilsons have seen during Tyler’s four seasons in Riverdale include Memphis, Miami, Fairfax, Virginia; Richmond, Kentucky; Columbia, South Carolina; Springfield, Massachusetts; Morgantown, West Virginia, and even a place called Normal, Illinois – home of the Illinois State Redbirds.
So, what has been the Wilsons’ favorite landing spot in Tyler’s four seasons?
“The best trip was going into his freshman year, and they went to the Bahamas for a tournament,” Natasha Wilson said. “That was definitely the best trip. And also in his freshman year, when they won the MAAC [Metro Atlantic Athletic Association] Championship, and they went to Orlando and played in the NCAA Tournament. That was a great trip, too.”
Of course, there is a downside to all this travel, as the Jaspers regularly play in less exotic places when playing MAAC rivals such as Siena College, Marist College and St. Peter’s College, to name but a few. The home bases of those teams—Albany, Poughkeepsie and Jersey City—are not the Wilsons’ favorite landing spots. But they are better than the one that sits on the bottom of their travel wish list.
“Buffalo,” Natasha Wilson said, laughing. “It’s always cold and always snow on the ground.”
“They say the people up there get used to it but I don’t think I’d ever get used to that,” Natasha Wilson said.
There was just one instance in all the 15 years or so of following Tyler’s basketball exploits when the Wilsons were forced to miss his game. That came last season when, due to a death in the family, Natasha and Marvin could not attend Manhattan’s game at Niagara University.
“It was very weird not being there,” Marvin Wilson said. “Tyler came to the wake for about 15 minutes, and then we put him on a plane so he could go play.”
So how do Marvin—a city bus driver—and Natasha—who works at Goldman Sachs—manage to find the time to attend all Tyler’s games?
“All our vacations are spent around his playing time,” Marvin Wilson said. “We just take our vacation time around when he’s playing.”
The Wilsons are not quite sure they know how much money they have spent on all their travels, and even if there was a way to tally it all up, they are not sure they want to know. All they do know is the memories they are making with Tyler, now in his senior year with the Jaspers, are invaluable.
“I look at it like this, we didn’t have to pay for college tuition so that paid for our travel,” Natasha Wilson said. “And when he was playing AAU that was preparing him to hopefully get a scholarship to save us money in the long run. I never added it up because I don’t want to know.”
“No we don’t,” Marvin Wilson chimed in with a laugh. “Hotels, rental cars, dinners. It was costly but we don’t want to know.”
Natasha and Marvin Wilson said they have kept the ticket stubs from all of Tyler’s games they have attended over the years, along with programs and any newspaper articles written about their son. And while Natasha hasn’t put together a scrapbook as of yet, it’s something she plans to do before long.
But that might just wait until Tyler’s Manhattan career comes to a close. The Jaspers have just two regular-season games remaining, and then they are off to the MAAC Tournament in Albany. One more road trip for the Wilsons before Tyler calls it a career.
“It’s going to be very bittersweet because this is it,” Natasha Wilson said. “This has been so special for all of us. But we’ve loved all of it. You got to support your kid. That’s what it’s all about.”
Tyler said will miss not only playing for Manhattan, but the special times he has shared with his parents since his early basketball days.
“I’m going to miss this, I’m not ready for it to end,” Tyler Wilson said. “It’s meant so much to me to have my parents with me all the time. It’s been something very special.”
Tyler Wilson, a communications major, is not sure what his post-graduation plans are as of yet. But if there is any basketball to be played—like, say, professionally in Europe—Natasha and Marvin Wilson are more than ready to make more travel plans.
“Well then I guess we’d have to go to Europe,” Natasha Wilson said. “I’m just not going back to Buffalo.”