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Friday, 08 November 2019 12:35

Wright Secures ROTY Hardware Amid Hubbub

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ANAHEIM, CA - Fresh in from the league office, 6'7" rookie Randolph Wright has been awarded the Rookie of the Year honor.  The Archers cleaned house last off season sending the fragments of their '22 Championship team to every corner of the league.  James Wall, MVP in '22 arrived in Boston and is still enjoying the playoff limelight as Boston battles for their shot at the cup.  Alain Lagon is doing the same at one of the favorites for the Cup, the London Knights.  Long Foote has faded into a more quiet anonymity though, at 28, appears to be the "elder statesman" on a team full of high impact rookies like Charles Ackerman and Erik Langolis.  All of this paved the way for the start of a rebuild process for the Archers which started with Wright.



Wright, a self-proclaimed Navy Brat, spent a lot of time around the water but speaks longingly of his time spent on the West Coast.  "When I was little, my father was stationed at the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego so, when there was time, we'd all go to the beach or spend time in Mission Bay.  He taught me how to surf, go fishin', and all that.  He wasn’t tall tho... I get that from my moms.  She was a pro ball player from LA.  Her and my dad met and here I am.  I get my love of the game from her."   


His Mother, Cynthia Parker-Wright, was a top power forward for Los Angeles and Randolph attributes most of his post-game from her.  "See, the game is more face up these days but back in my mom's day, people played with their back to the basket a lot.  I guess that's where I got it from maybe... [laughing].  We had a hoop in our driveway and I loved to play with my mom.  She used to take me to the courts in San Diego too.  We'd watch the fellas play and I remember how big those guys were.  Giants [gestures]!  You want to have your mind blown?  Have your mom shout that she has next and watch her take those guys to school." 


"When we had to leave for the east coast becuase my dad's job changed, I was wrecked," said Wright of this time in his life, "being a freshman is hard enough but a freshman in a new school?  Maaaan.  Fortunately, I had started to grow that summer so even though people didn't know me, they definitely wanted me for the basketball team.  I didn't know nobody so I practiced all the time.  Eventually, the kids eased up - being on varsity as a freshman helped that a lot.  Next year, you wouldn't know I was the new kid on the block.  Year after that?  Scouts started showing up to my games.   It just kept gainin' from there."


Duke had been #3 in the nation the season prior to Wright's arrival... a ranking built on their suffocating defense (at the time, ranked 55th in the nation); yet, despite the high rankings, the Blue Devils failed to secure the conference championship (losing to Emmanuel Reed and John Womble's Maryland Terrapins) and dropping a stunner in a 1 vs. 16 upset at the OCBL Tournament against an Alfonso Kelly lead Aztecs team from San Diego State - then unranked.  The pressure was on head coach Tony Ford as the expectations clearly were "title or bust." 


So the Blue Devils went on a crusade into the living rooms of top prospects across the nation to attempt to push their team to the next level.  Wright, then Virginia's Mr. Basketball from the Crabbers of Hampton High in Newport News was one such prospect and only a short, three hour drive away.  "I remember it was a crazy time," said Wright, "everybody was calling and pushing their cards into my hand.  I was just trying to play ball and graduate.  There were all these... distractions."  Ranked as the number 8 prospect in the nation, Wright made his presence felt immediately and was made a starter over junior John Harmon.  It was thought by many boosters that the addition of the rangy Wright that the defensive edge would improve with the addition of Wright and that defensive letdown was the reason for the tournament upset.


Wright declared to Duke to much celebration from Blue Devil faithful.  Wright, along with sophomore Francis Ellender [now of the Minnesota Marauders] and Gabriel Nason stumbled through an underwhelming season going unranked.  "That was a tough one," said Wright of his freshman year, "coach was angry and yellin' all the time.  Fans would boo and wear bags.  Parties were nothing like when they tried to get me to sign… that’s for sure.  We were grinding.  RPI had us at #24 but we just didn't get respect at the polls like Colorado and ‘Ras [Erasmo Dryden] did."  Hearing Ariel [Stewart] and [Thomas] Crawley talk about their time at Colorado?  Maaan… suffice to say, their college experience was nothing like mine."  


What does not kill you apparently makes you stronger.  Wright worked hard that summer and came back on a mission.  He started off on fire from the field shooting 62% from the floor an 42.9% from three.  "Coach had me doing a lot of shooting that summer," said Wright, "I'd never felt really comfortable out there but I just kept at it and kept at it until my muscle memory started to build up.  Gabe [Gabriel Nason] taught me some drills to incorporate into my workouts too.  That really helped."  That season, wright seemed ready to cement himself as a highly efficient, highly effective player who, given the time, could someday become a league leader.  He never got that chance though because bad luck struck the Blue Devils.  Miles Mann tore his ACL effectively ending his career and Wright broke his ankle slipping off an icy step off campus.  "I heard it pop and I knew it broke before the pain really hit me," said Wright, "fortunately, they have the best training staff (I think) in the world there.  I thought I might be done but they patched me up real good."  Wright would end up only playing 13 games as Coach Ford did not want to disrupt his lineup going into the tournament time and John Harmon was playing well. 


Duke did win the conference tournament that year and did avoid being a 1 vs. 16 first round bounce when they faced Bradley.  They arrived at the Elite 8 on their quest for a championship and fell to the ball hawking, number 8 Utah Utes with the duo lead by Forrest Adams and Pascual Caballero.  Wright was there on the sidelines and, after, the team was despondent.  One by one, every starter on the roster declared their eligibility for the OBWL from senior team captain Gabriel Nason to fellow sophomore William Teran.  Wright was facing a hard decision... go pro and void eligibility?  Stay at Duke and maybe be a feature player?  After talking with his teammates, doctors, and several professional level scouts, he declared for the draft.  Even though he didn't have the eye popping statistics that other entrants might have, he could play with the best of them so why risk another year of injury.


Scouts agreed.  His workouts impressed a number of scouts across the league and he rose in the rankings even above Kirby Cohen... above his Duke teammate Francis Ellender... even about Erasmo Dryden himself.  Some scouts even speculated he would go number one overall.  Wright's physical frame could hold up to the wear and tear of the OBWL season better they said.  They talked about his basketball IQ and how he had a solid upbringing in a family with pedigree and military discipline.  They even looked at how his jumper improved in his sophomore year as a hint of what his potential could be.  Doctors cleared the ankle and it was pain free.  He had no impediments to any cuts or normal moves.  There was excitement.  There was hype.  Then he didn't go number one.


Fifteen years from that kid on the San Diego courts and, once again, it's Randolph back on California courts again.  "I won't lie, I think I should have gone number one.  Then again, every player who's got skill or a decent vertical probably does.  I think I bring the whole package those guys like 'Ras [Erasmo Dryden] and Jose [Gaynor] don't.  It's funny... when I didn't go number one, my next thought wasn't where I was going, it was who I was going to.  Granted, I would have played my heart out no matter where but still... I am SO glad it was a west coast team picked me.  I am going back my mom's old stomping grounds and, really, that's where my heart is.  Those are my kinds of people."  Though Wright may not have yet learned the difference between Anaheim and Los Angeles (don’t call Anaheim a suburb even though judges may say you can), he has learned that expectations are high for a storied franchise like the Archers.


The entire Archers roster was in upheaval and the entire training camp was a Golding-esque survival of the fittest affair.  "I remember sitting down with coach Hensley and GM Stelle.  They told me the team would be almost all new players and that, as the top pick, I was expected to lead them.  That kind of faith is cool and all, but anyone who knows anything about leadership knows that just being a top pick isn't enough.  There were guys like Darwin [Sabin] who are so fast and tall that it just blows your mind.  The whole game was faster and there are tons of guys with talent and heart.  I remember that Ariel [Stewart] and I got after each other early.  He had a year on me and I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder from college.  It was just like being that skinny freshman in Hampton High again.  So, just like then, I got to work.”  Come opening day, Wright was named the starter at small forward and his rookie campaign was underway with great expectations.


Sadly, however, expectation and reality have a way of disconnecting.  To the fans, they were thinking that a quick turnaround was happening.  To them, hearing Wright was obviously the best talent meant a return to playoff glory was sure to happen... now.  The Archers posted the second worst record in the league this year and the worst in franchise history.  To management, their star talent would put up league leading numbers and prove them the geniuses they knew themselves to be... now.  Wright was the 70th leading scorer in the league. 


Sportswriters speculated about the cause of it all.  "The perception is often that you just slap in this player together with that one and that's it," said general manager Eric Stelle, "the reality of team building is that you can do that, sure, but you're going to need luck.  It’s kind of like cooking without measuring.  To establish and maintain enduring success takes more than luck though.  Enduring success takes luck, time, skill, and commitment to continual refinement.  Success is like being an expert knife thrower… who then is blindfolded and is expected to hit the bullseye of a target moving at high speed without error.  Can it be done?  Sure.  Can a lucky throw hit the bullseye?  Sure.  Is it easy to do consistently?  Not one bit."


Still, as Wright settled in, many were drawn to his workman like style.  The aged among the fans recalled the performances of Samuel Greenlee the first time they say Wright hit a cutting McDaniel out of the high post.  He defended like Greenlee; passed like Greenlee; rebounded like Greenlee; was 6'7" tall like Greenlee... only this kid certainly didn't score like Greenlee.  He scored more.  As a rookie, Wright's offensive game was much more highly evolved than the beloved Archer defensive ace and that generated ground swell for the newly minted number 23 jerseys. 


Wright continued his campaign to win hearts and minds as the season wore on.  Wright was seen frequently on the streets and beaches of LA where he'd draw fans whose autograph demands rarely went unfulfilled.  He drew national attention when he had a chippy tete-a-tete with Andrew Jackson of the Kentucky Stallions.  His 10-15 shot, 27 point performance outpaced the league leading Jackson who finished with 25.  The Archers dropped the game in a narrow loss but they won the hearts of fans with a glimpse of basketball games yet to come.


Enter the All Star Break and Wright is named to the rookie squad.  "It's funny," said Wright of his first all star game, "it was kind of like every day for me...George [Audley]... McD [Don McDaniel]... [Thomas] Crawley.. and Ray [Weston representing the Lions in D-League festivities] were there for the rookie squad.  Then there was Baby Huey [Damron] and Ariel [Stewart] on the sophs.  That's six players out of 24 total!"  It wasn't all-star, it was basically any other day... well, I guess with a lot more cameras."


Wright would finish the season averaging 13.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game. 


At season end, he was also crowned rookie of the year, a title that some in Chicago would contest.  Rookie scoring phenomenon Erasmo Dryden put up an eye popping 19.5 points per game but, due to injury, only appeared in 63 games.  On fan boards, hairs are being split as to what is more important in determining who gets the hardware.  Is it points?  Is it PER?  Is it true shooting?  Is it impact to the team?  There are countless iterations of the same argument but the truth is they are both fine rookies who will do quite a bit for their teams; however, there can only be one and it was Wright. 


"It was cool that they say fit to name me that and I am honored," said Wright, "honestly, you get so busy in the season with obligations to team, family, and yourself that thoughts on this get lost in the shuffle.  I know fans probably like to think that it is some neck and neck horse race where one jockey looks to the other before trying just a little harder.   It's not like that.  We all give it our all so, in the end, I got lucky and I know how it goes from what happened to me my sophomore year at Duke."


Fans, coaches, and management alike are curious to see what the future holds for Wright but, suffice to say, it's a very good start.

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