In the modern era of Georgetown basketball, a player has collected 20 or more rebounds only 12 times in nearly 1,200 games.
Alonzo Mourning and Mike Sweetney each topped 20 once. Dikembe Mutombo, twice.
Merlin Wilson did it eight times.
Among the most prolific rebounders to wear the Blue and Gray, the development of Wilson foretold the rise of the big man at Georgetown and was instrumental in building the base that would later draw the great names of Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo, and others to patrol the pivot in later years.
Wilson was the area's top ranked recruit in 1972, a 6-8 center from St. Anthony's who led the Tonies to unprecedented success under its coach, John Thompson. Wilson followed Thompson to the Hilltop that fall, quickly passing Ron Lyons on the depth chart at center and quickly establishing his scoring and rebounding prowess.In the season opener versus St. Francis, Wilson wowed the McDonough Gymnasium crowd with a 24 point effort that earned Thompson his first collegiate victory, 61-60. Before long, however, Wilson's rebounding skills would carry the Hoyas to new heights.
At the midway point of his freshman season, Wilson was averaging 12 points and 13 rebounds a game, a figure largely unprecedented in Georgetown's recent memory. Second to Mike Stokes in scoring, Wilson ranked in the top ten in rebounds in the nation, leading one Tampa Tribune columnist to write that under Wilson, Georgetown was "a team destined to be one of the next great powers in college basketball." In an early January game at Loyola, Wilson picked up 24 rebounds, as the Hoyas outrebounded the Greyhounds 65-33, and three weeks later torpedoed Navy with a 25 point, 18 rebound, eight block effort. A 17 point, 17 rebound effort helped lead Georgetown to a big win over at Fordham in February, followed by 15 and 16 versus St. Mary's at season's end. Though the 1972-73 Hoyas were a decided work in progress, Wilson finsihed the season as the team leader in scoring and rebounding, with a rebound average (14.1 per game) that placed him 14th in the nation in the category.
The recipient of pre-season All America mention by at least two publications in 1973-74, Wilson also received a lot more defensive effort by opponents, causing a number of his games to be mired in foul trouble. Moved to power forward in early 1974 to take the pressure off of his post play, Wilson turned in a month of strong play in January, 1974, from a 23 point, 16 rebound game against Chicago State, 23 rebounds versus Holy Cross, and 23 boards a week later versus Penn State. He finished the 1973-74 season with an average of 15.5 rebounds per game, a school record that has not been approached since.
Wilson's statistics took a decided downturn in 1974-75, causing a fair share of criticism to Wilson and to his coach. Wilson seemed to lack the intensity getting up and down the floor and his work on the boards sagged during the Hoyas' early season struggles, with a run of poor finishes that had some calling for Thompson's ouster. Wilson's problems were medical--an undiagnosed back ailment caused considerable pain for Wilson on the court and it had not been publicly discussed in the months prior to the scoring slump. Wilson regrouped for some big games down the stretch of the 1974-75 season, though, including 17 points and 13 rebounds in the Hoyas' win over St. Joseph's, and a 23 rebound effort versus St. Francis. For much of the season, however, his play varied considerably from game to game and lacked the domination of his first two years. Wilson held off Ed Hopkins by 11 boards for the team rebounding title, becoming only the third player ever to lead the team in rebounding three straight years.
With Hopkins recovering from off season surgery, it was up to Wilson to carry the load in the middle in 1975-76. Despite lingering effects from his back problems, Wilson started all 28 games that season, shooting 57 percent from the field and averaging a near double double (11.1 points, 9.8 rebounds a game). He scored his eighth and final 20+ effort in the season, a 22 point, 20 rebound effort versus Upsala.
Merlin Wilson graduated in 1976 as the school's fifth all time scorer and its all-time rebounder, helping lead the school to an then-unprecedented two straight NCAA berths. Owing to the change in freshman eligibility upon his arrival, Wilson became the first player ever to lead the team in rebounding four straight years. In the years since this accomplishment, only Patrick Ewing (1981-85) has matched this mark.
Following an 8th round selection by the NBA's Washington Bullets, Wilson played professionally for a number of years in Europe and South America. Had he remained healthy, there is no telling how dominant Wilson could have become for the Hoyas, but his efforts in the formative years of the Thompson era set in motion the tradition of low-post excellence enjoyed to this day.