BOWLING GREEN - For a 24-year-old who's been to rock bottom and back, the way Kris Wilson talks about his journey is unexpectedly free and upbeat.
Perhaps it is because he's returned to where it all started - Bowling Green State University with the men's basketball team.
In 2001, Wilson was a fresh-faced point guard whom coach Dan Dakich was counting on to lead his team into the future. Today, he's a grizzled young man in recovery who might not have had much of a future without his old coach.
When Wilson first came to BGSU, Dakich became his basketball mentor. Now he's something much more important, a surrogate father.
Wilson, who played for the Falcons in 2001-02 before leaving school, now admittedly against his better judgment, rejoined the team in January as an administrative assistant.
The first time he arrived in Bowling Green, life was great. From Huntington, W.Va., Wilson had signed a letter of intent at BGSU in the spring after his hometown school, Marshall, pulled its offer.
His life would change forever the night of Oct. 24, 2001, days after practice had started, when Dakich pulled him out of study hall.
Dakich delivered unthinkable news: Wilson's father, Tim, had committed suicide. They drove together to Huntington that night, the team joining them for the funeral a few days later.
"He didn't have to do that," Wilson said. "He could have gotten my mom on the phone. He felt like that was his place to do that. He wasn't just my coach, he was looking out for me as a person too. I had a tremendous amount of respect for him after that."
Wilson stayed his freshmanyear and was a reserve on the Falcons' 24-9 team. But when the first anniversary of his father's death passed the next fall, he decided he needed to leave.
The next three years were miserable. Wilson played for two seasons at Rio Grande (Ohio) College, but became addicted to the painkiller OxyContin. By last fall, he was out of school, living at home with no job and in real trouble.
"I don't know if I did that because of what had happened to my father," Wilson said. "Maybe I was trying to kill the pain, I don't know."
Wilson and his mom thought of calling his former coach for help because he said he had looked up to Dakich when he was at BGSU. They connected Jan. 7, when the Falcons were heading back from a road trip to Western Michigan. Dakich said he had to talk to his wife, Jackie, and to a school official to see if Wilson could re-enroll in classes for the winter semester.
The next day, Wilson was back in Bowling Green and Dakich had offered him a room in his home.
"I was thinking, all I did was sign a letter of intent and play basketball for him, it wasn't like I was a 30-point scorer," Wilson said. "I've never done nothing for the guy and he decides to help me out like this. I could never thank him enough."
The Dakiches found daily rehab meetings for Wilson to attend and helped him develop a routine. During the season Wilson worked with game film and traveled with the team to games.
"My wife said, this would be hard if he wasn't so enjoyable to be around. It's not hard at all," Dakich said. "Jackie worries about him kind of like a mother, but he's given her zero issues.
"Life's about helping someone."
Lately Dakich has received some heat for players leaving the program, but he's getting all the credit in the world from a guy who's returned.
"I thought it would be a lot harder but they've made it easier for me," Wilson said. "I'm not around trouble, so I don't get in trouble."
Wilson hopes to graduate in December with a degree in education. He recently returned home for a visit and his family couldn't believe the changes in him.
"The stuff I've gone through, maybe it will make me stronger. I hope so," Wilson said. "Maybe I had to go through that stuff to become the person I want to be."