Former Willis basketball player Darius Mickens’ current situation is somewhat bittersweet.
On one hand, he is spending plenty of quality time with his family in Willis instead of attending classes on the campus of Western Texas College in Snyder. On the other hand, he craves the normalcy of being a student-athlete as he wraps up his final semester at the school.
“It’s been hard because the first couple of weeks were kind of sluggish,” Mickens said. “There really wasn’t much to do. It’s just hard for us athletes because we’re always doing something, and we’re always on the go — class, workouts. So just sitting here at home, doing homework, it’s not frustrating, but I just felt like I needed to be doing something.”
The good news for Mickens during the uncertain times that have arisen during the coronavirus outbreak is that he is still able to work out at Spring gym owned by a friend. And then there’s the most recent development in his basketball career — the exciting move to a new program.
Mickens announced this week that he will be transferring to Cal State-San Bernardino and joining the Division II program over the summer. The move to The Golden State comes after spending one season apiece at Texas A&M-Kingsville and Western Texas. His new destination will take him more than 1,500 miles away from his hometown.
“One of the biggest reasons for the decision was looking forward to my career after college,” said Mickens, who graduated from Willis two years ago as the program’s all-time leading scorer. “The goal is to play professional basketball and keep playing for as long as I can. I felt like I had to join a program that’s good at making players better for the next level.”
Mickens had a chance to visit his future home recently — located about an hour east of Los Angeles — and was enamored with the basketball culture he would be joining.
“The atmosphere just had a family feel — on and off the court with teammates and coaches,” Mickens said. “That was a big part of that decision, too. ... I visited a couple weekends ago, and everybody was so accepting with open arms when I got there, I felt like I was at home already. They talked about my role and how I fit into the program and how they had a vision for me.”
Mickens has put together two highly productive college seasons at the junior college level and feels more than ready to contribute for his new team. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.4 points, six rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per contest during his sophomore campaign at Western. He was also efficient, shooting 46 percent from the floor and 35 percent from 3-point range.
“My growth has been skyrocketing ever since I stepped foot on campus my freshman year at Kingsville,” Mickens said. “I feel like I had the ability to play at the next level, and in my first two years, I’ve proven that. I feel like the sky is the limit if I keep working hard and improving.”
With his move to California still a couple months away, Mickens is enjoying his time back in Willis. During his first two years of college, he was only able to visit over Christmas break.
“I kind of miss being in Willis, being in the city,” he said. “Even though I can’t go out right now — unless it’s to the gym and back — just being able to drive through the city where I grew up playing basketball, passing by my old high school every day, I’m very grateful for that.”