|Around the Rim: Wright Becoming a Leader|
Before Tuesday's game against UMBC, Erik Copes enjoyed reminding Sherrod Wright that the junior guard had no dunks this season. Wright didn't need to be reminded that he had gone two games without a three-pointer and was 1-for-11 beyond the arc in his last four games.
He took care of both deficiencies in the 74-63 victory at the Patriot Center. The 6-4 Wright finished with a season-high 23 points, including 3-for-5 shooting on threes plus two jams, five rebounds and two steals.
All of Wright's diverse abilities were on display. He nailed threes, hit pull-ups, dunked in traffic, soared for some important rebounds and made steals that led to baskets.
"I had some good looks," said Wright, redshirted in 2010-11 due to shoulder surgery . "I haven't made any threes the last couple of games. But I'm a confidence shooter. My teammates got faith in me. I knew I would l make one eventually. I'm not stressing making threes. I got some good looks. That started the fire."
Wright played the complete kind of game that he was challenged to produce by Coach Paul Hewitt, who, while at Georgia Tech, offered Wright a scholarship out of Mt. Vernon (NY) High School. "God had a plan," said Wright of their eventual reunion.
In meetings after last season, Hewitt preached that Wright had a chance to succeed former teammate Ryan Pearson as the CAA player of the year if he could expand his game. Wright can laugh about it now, but he was somewhat indignant that Hewitt classified him as basically a stationary shooter.
"Coach told me that you can't just be a catch and shoot guy," Wright says. "Especially if you're going to be the marksman on offense. Scouting reports will be looking for you. You've got to be able to do different things - rebound, get steals, make free throws - or you're going to be just another player. He challenged me to spread my game and become more than a one-dimensional player."
Besides working out, Wright observed tape of players including Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, studying how they managed to separate from defenders.
"I saw how they are able to create their shots with three dribbles or less," Wright said. "That's one thing I know I've got to be able to do, create space in three dribbles or less. Coach always says after three dribbles, it's a turnover. If you want to be a go-to guy and efficient scorer, you've got to be able to get everything off in three dribbles or less."
Wright, who averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 rebounds last year as a part-time starter, dedicated the summer to improving. He stayed on campus and spent a lot of time at the Patriot Center and RAC, working on his game, with coaches and by himself. This season he leads the Patriots in scoring (16.0), rebounding (5.2) and shooting (52.1%). He took pride in mentioning after the game, he now has more dunks (two) than Copes (one) for the season.
"I think he's a guy who could be the best player in our league," Hewitt says." Beyond that, he has a bright future in the game of basketball. But it does come down to being able to do different things. I don't want him to be just a guy who makes shots. He's going to be able to be a good shooter. Good shooting can come and go. I want him to still have an impact on the game when he's not shooting well. Rebounding and defense, especially off the ball defense. On the ball he sometimes he gets clipped on screens, but for the most part he's okay. Off the ball, he can be lulled to sleep."
Hewitt, who told Wright he should average 18 points and seven rebounds per game, also challenged Wright to become a more vocal leader. That role doesn't come naturally. "I'm a quiet guy, a 'keep to myself' kind of guy," says Wright, a captain. "I had to change my mindset totally to come out of my shell and sacrifice for the team to become a leader more vocal on the court, more vocal in practice, get in other people's faces and make sure everybody is doing what they need to."
Hewitt sees improvement: "He's really doing a good job of practicing hard every day. He's become a more verbal player in practice. He's talking more on the court. His energy level and intensity have picked up.
"I can't say it was like that at the start. The first couple days of practice I thought he was just going through the motions. Then he came to practice one day with his hair cut and shaved. He looked like he was ready for business. Since then he's been all business."
After Tuesday's game, Wright headed back to the stands to spend some time with relatives from his mother's side of the family. Asked if he has hobbies, Wright replied, "Video games and family. My life really revolves around basketball.
"I'm trying to become the best player I can be, the best leader I can be. I've got to fully dedicate myself to basketball."