PHOENIX - He has played in only a little more than half of the 76ers' games this season, and when he does see the court, it is usually for very limited minutes. But few players, especially ones in his limited playing role, are as tuned in to the game as Damien Wilkins.

Now in his ninth season out of Georgia, Wilkins has seen more than his share of NBA games, and there isn't one that goes by during which he doesn't learn something new. His seat is usually at the top of the bench, near Doug Collins' assistants. It is a place usually reserved for key subs. But that is where Wilkins wants to be, so he can be a part of the game even if his warmup jacket rarely comes off.

"That is just the way I am. I love the game, man," said the nephew of the legendary Dominique Wilkins and son of former NBA player Gerald Wilkins. "Any way I can help, I will, because I really feel like I'm involved in the game.

"I've never been one of those guys who will just sit over there and collect the check. I would feel like I was cheating the game. I'm not that type of guy. If I'm not engaged or if I'm not involved in any way or being asked to be involved, I would just go home and be with my kids and use my degree to do something else. I just love the game, I love being around it, I love being around the guys, helping guys any way that I can. But more important, I love playing. This is my game.

"My game time is when I get to the arena, 3 hours before the game, and I get my work in and work so hard. Then during the game I just want to be out there so bad, but if I'm not I stay involved in other ways. That's how I keep engaged to the game."

Wilkins, who turns 33 next week, broke into the NBA as an undrafted free agent with Seattle in 2004 and moved with the team to Oklahoma City. He also has played for Minnesota, Atlanta and Detroit. He is a coach's dream, a player who practices hard, relishes any time he gets to play and, if he isn't playing, serving as sort of another coach on the bench. In fact, coaching is where Wilkins sees himself once his career is over.

"When I'm done playing, I want to coach, I've always said that," he said. "For me, I always try to pick coach's mind to try to figure out the adjustments he's making, why he's making those adjustments. I talk to the assistants a lot about things that we might change or look at doing and see how they feel about it. I'll ask about plays that we might run or defensive schemes that might work and use.

"I start to see the whole game differently. The less you play, the more you watch. You're either going to sit over there and pout or you're going to get engaged with what's happening and try to learn. I've always tried to learn."

Though he would coach anywhere, there really is only one place Wilkins wants to share his knowledge.

"I want to coach in the NBA," he said. "I would coach college, too. But the only college coaching I've ever seen is my own. I would love to coach in the NBA. A head coach in the NBA has to be patient, too, because you're managing talent and dealing with egos and guys who feel like they are bigger than the team and the game. I think it's a challenge coaching on any level. For me I'd rather coach the NBA game because it's a smarter game and I like being around the best of the best."

Lavoy set as starter

Earlier in the season, Doug Collins tinkered with his starting lineup, sometimes out of necessity due to injuries, sometimes to put a better matchup on the floor for his club to begin the game. At times, center Lavoy Allen was the one who found himself on the bench as Collins started Kwame Brown to go with a more physical presence.

Don't expect that to happen again. Collins said that Allen would stay there because when he did take him out of the starting lineup, the coach thought "it set him back a little bit."

To the soft-spoken Allen, you really can't tell if it matters to him all that much. That's just the way he is. He knows his role is to rebound, play defense and hit the open shot.

"Whenever I'm out there on the floor, I'll do whatever I can to help the team," he said. "I'm trying to be aggressive, but [Collins] wants us all to be aggressive. I get my shots whenever I can, rolling to the basket, picking and popping and getting shots. I'm more of a guy who gets shots out of the byproduct of what's happening offensively. We have a lot of guys who get a lot of attention from the defenses and they cause double teams, so that leaves me open for shots."

Travel plans

Usually the Sixers fly home or to the next city after a game. After their game against the Suns Wednesday, the team stayed and planned to travel to Oklahoma City later Thursday afternoon. Collins has a house in nearby Scottsdale, where the team hotel is. Downtown Phoenix was flooded in a sea of purple and green as fans from Kansas State and Oregon overtook the city before Thursday's Fiesta Bowl in Glendale.