With Dayton’s 77-71 victory over Illinois in the NIT quarterfinals Wednesday night, the three-seeded Flyers have earned themselves a trip to the semifinals and Madison Square Garden for the tournament’s Final Four. Dayton (8-8, 23-12) will face off against Ole Miss (9-7, 24-10) next on Tuesday March 30th â€“ UNC and Rhode Island make up the rest of the Final Four. Dayton’s success this season has been up-and-down â€“ with wins coming over Old Dominion, Xavier and Cincinnati â€“ but coach Brian Gregory has the Flyers poised to make good on his team’s NIT selection. A major reason why Dayton has persevered on after a rough conference schedule in the A-10 is junior forward Chris Wright.
Wright leads Dayton in scoring, rebounding and blocks â€“ averaging 13.8 points, 7.0 boards and 1.4 swats a game â€“ and at 6-8 225-pounds, he gives the Flyers a tough post-presence on the low-block. If Wright’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he was a blue-chip recruit coming out of Trotwood, Ohio in 2007. Even with the chance to play at a more elite program, Wright chose to stay close to home and give Gregory and company a new reason to get excited about Flyers basketball. After an injury-plagued freshman season in 2007-08, Wright has begun to really excel in Dayton’s system. His extremely hard work ethic and drive to get better has resulted in a first-team All-Atlantic 10 selection this season. There’s no question that Wright is a legit NBA prospect â€“ and one that will remind you of a Jason Maxiell type player â€“ what is questionable, is when he will declare. All indications should point to Wright returning next season and fine-tuning his game to ultimately give him a better shot at the first-round.
Still, I was curious how Wright sees himself progressing and as the regular season was winding down, I was able to catch Wright for a few exclusive moments with Dime…
Dime: Coming out of high school in Ohio, you were a big-time recruit. Why was it important for you to choose nearby Dayton and play for Coach Gregory?
Chris Wright: Just because I thought it was a perfect opportunity. You know a lot of guys in the past from this area, they went to a so called “big time” school or bigger school nationally as far as exposure and stuff like that and I just wanted to go to a program where it was kind of on the rise and [Gregory] was doing some good things. I heard a lot about him and he was recruiting me since day one; from day one he was there. (Also,) just the opportunity for my family to be able to see me play. You know, I just thought it would be good to stay close to home and it would take a burden off of my mom’s shoulders to try to find money or try to travel. If I would have went to somewhere like Texas or Michigan State, it would have been difficult for her to come see me play.
Dime: Do you feel like you’ve helped put Dayton back on the basketball map?
CW: Yeah, I think I helped because just the stuff [this past] off-season, working hard before I got here and just getting out there and doing what I do best. You know, I’m not the main reason, but I’m one of the reasons and that’s what [Gregory] wanted me to do and that’s why he brought me here. I feel like I’m a part of it.
Dime: You’re in your third year, how do you think you’re progressing as a player?
CW: I feel like I’ve progressed a lot; not making some of the dumb mistakes that I would’ve made as a freshman â€“ I mean I still make mistakes â€“ but not just the real, real silly mistakes that I would as a freshman. I feel like I’m more experienced now than I’ve ever been.
Dime: With your experience and skills, are you more comfortable taking on the role of leader for this team?
CW: I mean I’m comfortable. We’re hard working and want to do great things; great responsibility comes with it. I’m man enough and I have enough faith in myself that I can handle it.
Dime: How would you best describe your game?
CW: Tough, relentless â€“ with my rebounding and never giving up on a play or a ball or a rebound. If I think I can get it, [then] I’m going to go get it. Running the floor, driving hard to the rim and just being relentless. [My work ethic] has come naturally ever since I’ve been a kid…but at the same time, you still got to work because ain’t nothing in life free and I just feel like there’s somebody always hunting for me. So I feel like if I slack up or don’t work as hard as I can or am capable of, I think somebody [might] pass me or something.
Dime: Is there any native Dayton greats or other players that you look up to or model parts of your game after?
CW: That’s a good question, probably Andre Hudson. When I was a kid, I used to always be in the lay-up line thinking I was Andre Hudson [laughs]. And in my hallway I used to put finger handprints â€“ we used to come to my house and there’d be fingerprints all up on the doorway â€“ because I used to be jumping up there having dirty hands and thinking I was Andre.
Dime: You’re playing great basketball this year, if you continue on the same path, is leaving early for the NBA a legitimate possibility â€“ have you even thought about it?
CW: I mean of course it’s been thought about before, but I’m worried about [Dayton's] season and I’ve been worried about the season since it started. Because If you worry about [the NBA] too much, then you start to try to do things that you’re not used to doing; you try to be too impressive, you try to impress this person or that person and you start to play outside of yourself in a negative way than more of a positive way. That’s something that I’m going to worry about when it comes, I’m not really focused on it right now, but if there’s an opportunity, you just got to weigh your options.
Follow Jack on Twitter at @jensenjack.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.