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Dorell Wright on the rise

 


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/ May 6, 2004

While most of the high school and prep basketball world was paying its attention to the Prime Time Shootout back on the first weekend of February, there was someone at the National Prep Invitational Tournament quietly getting his among some of the other top competition in the country who weren't in New Jersey that weekend.

Overshadowing what once seemed as just another of the dozen or so names considering making the jump past college to the NBA was one of the most anticipated games of the year on the high school and prep level. National Player of the Year and the prospected top pick in this year's National Basketball Association draft, Dwight Howard, and Southwestern Christian Academy of Atlanta, Ga., squared off against Lincoln High, N.Y., and Sebastian Telfair, the first in the heralded tradition of New York City point guards to go straight to the league.

Howard and Telfair have been made known commodities by the national media since the beginning of this past season. Telfair was even before the fall, due to the New York Knicks' Stephon Marbury being his cousin.

But on the weekend of the Prime Time Shootout that featured the much publicized Howard-Telfair match-up, Rhode Island played host to the tournament that featured another prep star who displayed why he should've been mentioned in the same breath as the others playing in Jersey all along.

That weekend, Dorell Wright proved no doubting of his place with the rest of this year's class that are considering skipping college and going straight to the pros. The buzz of him holding a table on the floor of Madison Square Garden in a three-piece and some Ferragamo's at June's NBA draft was now justified. He dropped 32, 35 and 41 points in his South Kent (CT) team's three games versus Laurinburg Prep, N.C., Northfield/Mount Herman, Ma., and Redemption Christian Academy, N.Y., taking home the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.

Dave Maron, the National Prep Invitational Tournament co-coordinator, alongside Mike Procopio, said Wright clearly proved his place with the country's elite at the prep level those three days.

"The difference from our tournament and Prime Time is that there are all-around, better teams with more mature players at the post-grad level," Maron said. "I thought Wright had unlimited potential from the first time I saw him. He was easily the best there and, in my eyes, is in the top five of this year's class."

Still though, it seemed as if Wright was the MVP at the "other" tournament that weekend, and he couldn't generate anything more than that buzz he's had since the summer.

This had been the story all year for the most slept on prep player in the country.

Since that February weekend though, the 18-year old, 6'7, 190 lb. swingman has gone on a tear, averaging 29.1 points per game on a South Kent team in its first year of existence and playing in New England Class A.

And in April, the kid drawing comparisons to Tracy McGrady for his athleticism, long frame and fluid game was named to USA Today's All-USA Boys Basketball Second Team. Add being game-high scorer in both the Roundball Classic in Chicago and Jordan Capital Classic in Maryland, and Wright is finally now receiving the recognition that the Telfairs and Howards of the prep world have been all year.

Dorell has been deserving of it all year, playing on a more competitive level than those others- a level of which the NPIT's competition presented and what New England Class A brings with teams like Worcester Academy, Bridgton Academy and Notre Dame Prep.

That, however, was somehow overlooked by those deeming the future stars of the game.

"That's the nature of prep school basketball," said South Kent head coach Raphael Chillious. "It's the best competition but we're almost a secluded league. We don't get all the media hype, but in one way that's good. We don't have to worry about all that attention getting in the kids' heads."

For Wright, whatever attention he has got hasn't made his headswell one bit. Even if he did get the national attention, it wouldn't phase him. He wouldn't acknowledge the T-Mac comparisons. He wouldn't come straight out and tell you about the first step that leaves everyone, the versatility to create his own shot, or the mobility inside despite being criticized for having the same body Kobe had at 18. He simply lets his game do the talking for him.

"He never talks about his own game and I think that he doesn't know just how good he really is," Chillious said.

Like at the Roundball Classic, Wright's game-high 17 points impressed everybody. But for him, it was another game, just on a larger stage.

"Roundball was cool, I got to catch a couple dunks. I was a little uptight for it but I didn't go out there really trying to impress anybody. I just went out there and tried to play my game," Wright said.

And he did, in Chicago, where he may step foot again next year to play at DePaul. Wright signed his letter of intent to play for the Blue Demons before the South Kent season.

But maybe more importantly for those watching the Roundball Classic was his performance in a game where his competition was those getting the attention all year, kids more or less not playing prep basketball. Even crazier, kids who haven't been playing basketball seriously for just three years like Wright has.

"I may be a little biased, but he's better than three quarters of the high school kids putting their names in the draft," Chillious said. "But Dorell doesn't think that, and that's what's great about him."

How Wright and Chillious hooked up was through a style of pursuit by Chillious that perfectly complemented Wright's on-court personality.

Chillious, the architect of the new South Kent prep team who convinced three other pre-season, Division I-signed guys to play at the start-from-scratch program, first saw Wright play at the Kingwood Classic in Texas last April when Dorell was a part of the SoCal All Stars. It was there that everyone began heavily recruiting Wright, but Chillious was not as aggressive as other prep and college coaches were.

"I started hearing things about this kid from Cali so I went to Kingwood to check him out. He tore it up there and all of a sudden he had so many people coming at him. But my recruiting style is different from a lot of other people," Chillious said.

"We had several conversations over the next month but not too many so that I wasn't hounding him. I told him what we had at South Kent, what we offered, and said we'd love to have him but if not we'll roll without him. A couple weeks later his AAU coach told me he was coming."

Chillious' pursuit of Wright was subdued, laidback, like Wright. It was that, the competition he would face, and the idea of going away from California that Dorell says made him choose South Kent.

"I was glad to get away before college. It gave me the chance to not get homesick before next year," Wright said. "That and playing against competition that was better than what I faced before, too."

For Wright to demonstrate such level-headedness in regard to the living situation is key at his young age. As mentioned, he is 18. However, he only turned 18 back on December 2nd.

So even if he already has that being-away-from-home experience under his belt, and he hasn't had to deal with all the media attention that the others he played with at the All-American games did, Wright is still going to have to deal with a transitional phase in his life.

Wright says he'll live out in Chicago with some family he has there when South Kent ends its school year. There, he'll continue working out and preparing for the next level of basketball he'll encounter- in a DePaul uniform or at the NBA pre-draft camps on June 8th-11th.

The day before the Jordan Capital Classic, Wright told the Washington Post he will enter the NBA draft but will not hire an agent.

The buzz had ended. This was the first time Dorell had said anything definitive about the draft.

"It's kind of crazy, there was no telling three years ago that I'd be where I am," Wright said. "But teams draft on potential these days. I know I'm not ready, but half the other guys making the jump aren't ready either. You never know what's going to happen in the future, though. So, if I'm going to be a top 20 pick, then I might as well [enter the draft]."

Now that the decision has been made and the prep season and all-star games have ended, Chillious and Wright are working out daily. Chillious says Wright is a gym rat and has been working on his footwork for one. He also has been doing the workouts that he will see at the NBA Draft camps in June. Between having friends in the coaches association and working on his master's in coaching studies, Chillious says Wright should be at an advantage going into the camps.

"Dorell's been doing the same workouts that he's going to see in June at the camps for a whole season now," Chillious said. "He'll be going in there and not doing them for the first time, so I think he's really going to wow people."

Wright said he probably won't scrimmage at the June camp, but he get measured and do the skill evaluations that Chillious was referring to.

For now though, Dorell Wright says he feels young, and is looking forward to being successful at DePaul or in the NBA.

In a matter of three years, he's switched from concentrating on baseball, where he was scouted by several major league teams during his time at Leuzinger, Ca., to pursuing a pro hoop career.

He's gone from California to Connecticut, and now to Chicago or any one of the 32 teams in the league.

He's gone from being regarded as the most slept on prep talent to conversating with Michael Jordan and going for game-high in 23's own all-star game.

"He motivated me to always want to win," Wright said of Jordan. "It was crazy having him talking to me, looking right at me and answering questions."

With his persona, he'll get used to having icons like Jordan and everybody else looking at him. He may not have had people's attention until April, but Dorell Wright will soon realize that everybody is looking at him now.

Patrick Stevens is a Journalism major at the University of Rhode Island.







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