For a player who thrives on the jumper, Anthony Wright was, coincidentally, just a drive away from being ready to contribute to the Michigan men’s basketball team.
Although the forward wouldn’t have played much last season because of the seniors in front of him, Wright doesn’t dance around why he couldn’t immediately contribute.
“I understand what everybody’s perception was,” he said. “I was out of shape.”
But getting his drivers’ license in April changed all of that.
Since he could drive, the Sterling, Va., native could play about three times as many games this summer than last. He traveled 20 miles from his home in Virginia each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and 30 miles Wednesdays and Fridays to play in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Wright dropped 30 pounds in the process.
Many criticized former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker for offering Wright a scholarship. Although Wright played for famed Oak Hill Academy, he didn’t start until late in his senior season. The doubts seemed justified when Wright redshirted his freshman year.
Wright had back spasms his second-to-last high school game and took some time to recover – too much, he admits, as his complacency led to his weight problem.
Now, Wright can do simple things like running up and down the court – something he struggled with all of last season. He has even carved out his niche on the team. Michigan coach John Beilein compared him to a pair of players he had at West Virginia, Patrick Beilein (8.0 points per game as a senior) and Frank Young (15.3).
“This guy that comes in, and if he can see the rim, he shoots it,” Beilein joked.
But the numbers show some truth. Wright’s 12 shots lead all reserves, and his .3 shots per minute, third on the team, only trails Michigan’s top two scorers, sophomore DeShawn Sims and freshman Manny Harris.
Wright has done more than scoring, though. He has made hustle plays that energize the team, too. Midway through the second half of the Wolverines’ win over Brown Sunday, sophomore Ekpe Udoh missed a free throw, and after Ron Coleman tipped the ball, it appeared to be going out of bounds. But Wright leaped over the baseline and flung the ball over his head to set up another possession. Michigan didn’t score, but it’s doubtful Wright could’ve come close to making a play like that last season.
“He doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, dumb or anything,” Harris said. “He’s a good player, a good, solid player.”
Redshirt junior C.J. Lee said Wright likes to mess around and see what he can get away with when shooting around in the gym. So Lee has a response every time Wright misses in a game.
“When he misses a shot, I always say ‘Quit trying to miss,’ ” Lee said.
Having made 4-of-9 3-pointers this season, Wright is reverting back to an old, bad habit – not trying hard enough.
This time, though, it’s OK.