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Sophomore Damien Wilkins and the N.C. State Wolfpack will host Penn on Friday night at the CoSIDA Classic. Wilkins starred as a freshman last year. (John McKeever/The Technician)

"My father said real pressures are in life, not in basketball." That's the perfect attitude for Damien Wilkins. Wilkins, a 6'6" sophomore forward at North Carolina State, has faced high expectations ever since he took the hardwood for the Wolfpack. Since Wilkins is the son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins and the nephew of former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, Wolfpack fans naturally expected that the apple did not fall far from the tree. "I wasn't around them a lot when I was a kid because they were always traveling," Wilkins said. "Having them around now is a tremendous advantage. They taught me how to play the game, and they taught me about the businesses of the game." Wilkins certainly did not need counsel when he made his decision to attend N.C. State. After being heavily recruited by several schools, the highly touted Wilkins narrowed his choices to Georgia Tech, Kentucky and N.C. State before making his final decision. "It was a win-win situation," Wilkins said. "I always wanted to come back home, and N.C. State has great coaches." Wilkins was born about an hour and a half from Raleigh in the coastal town of Washington, N.C. He lived there with his mother until he was 14 years old. Then, Wilkins left Washington to attend high school in Orlando, Fla. There, Wilkins earned the distinction of being named a McDonald's High School All-American. This just translated into higher expectations when he started playing basketball for the Wolfpack last season. "A lot of people weren't enthused about my season, but who am I playing for? Them or myself and my team?" Wilkins said. "At times I thought I was a little passive, but I was proud of the year I had." And he should be. As a freshman, Wilkins was one of the Wolfpack's best players, and he helped lead N.C. State to its first 20-win season in nine years. He led the Wolfpack to the court where his father once played, Madison Square Garden, by taking them to the semifinals of the NIT. No Wolfpack player saw more minutes than Wilkins, who started every game last season and averaged 31.9 minutes per contest. Wilkins was also a leader in practically every statistical category for Herb Sendek's squad. With 11.4 points per game, he was second on the team in scoring behind junior guard Anthony Grundy. Wilkins grabbed more offensive boards than any of his teammates and finished second only to senior forward Damon Thornton in total rebounds with 197. Wilkins also had a successful season on defense. He finished third on the team in both blocks and steals with 21 and 41, respectively. In an exhibition game last Saturday against the California All-Stars, Wilkins picked up where he left off last season. He scored 22 points in the contest and was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc, helping N.C. State to a 120-87 win. So when N.C. State tips off its season against Penn on Friday, expectations will once again be high for Damien Wilkins, as the Wolfpack's faithful hope to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. But that's fine with Wilkins, because his father already taught him how to keep pressure on the basketball court in perspective.

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