To relax before every game, redshirt freshman Anthony Wright listens to Critical Condition Band, a little-known Washington D.C.-area go-go ensemble.
Like the band, Wright has been performing in obscurity for much of the season.
But to Michigan coach John Beilein’s delight, the Sterling, Va., native’s offense is becoming a major piece in the Wolverines’ slow and steady improvement.
“It’s really important to have that third guy who can score,” Beilein said.
Beilein wants two scorers on the court as often as possible. Sophomore DeShawn Sims and freshman Manny Harris are the team’s leading scorers and both are in the starting lineup. With Wright’s continued success on offense, Beilein can rest Sims earlier and still keep two scoring threats on the floor.
The boost off the bench has also helped Michigan avoid the first-half scoring droughts that plagued it for much of the season.
“I’ve always been willing to shoot,” Wright said. “But now the balls are just falling in, and my release feels great. So I’m just trying to be consistent with that now.”
Before his 15-point performance against Illinois, Wright failed to score in double digits for 14 straight games, going back to Michigan’s second game of the season.
Beilein attributed Wright’s struggles to his deflating performance against then-No. 5 Georgetown, in front of family and friends.
“That knocked him back a little bit,” Beilein said. “He has his confidence right now, and that’s really important.”
After that run of tough games, Wright has scored double digits in three of the past seven games. During the stretch, Wright has tallied seven points per game, four better than his average before the Illinois game.
While Wright hasn’t scored at the same rate as Sims and Harris, his first-half point bursts against Illinois, Michigan State and Penn State kept Michigan in the game and are glimpses of how valuable Wright can be as a sixth man.
“It definitely helps for him to come off the bench and shoot at such a high percentage,” freshman Kelvin Grady said. “He takes our team to a whole new level.”
His play hasn’t just improved on offense. Wright has developed into a solid defensive player, too. Beilein trusted Wright’s defensive abilities so much he opted to sit Sims offense in favor of Wright’s defense for the final moments of the Wolverines’ 65-55 loss to Ohio State.
“I play defense for the team and not just for myself,” Wright said. “I just try and be in the right place helping (or) trying to take a charge.”
In a season in which not much has gone right for Michigan, Wright is a sign of progress for the program.
And while the music he listens to before games remains obscure, Wright’s name will soon be known well beyond the Chesapeake region.