Friday, January 26, 2018

The Wright Way: For Ethan Wright, It Was Always About Being a Tiger

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Following a heartbreaking loss to Catholic Memorial in the 2015 Division 1 South Sectional Semifinals, Newton North senior Tommy Mobley stood outside the Tigers’ locker room and was asked about what was next for the program.

“There is a freshman in there who is going to work his tail off,” a choked up Mobley iterated.

Three years later and that freshman is the most explosive player in Massachusetts.

After being born in Manhattan, Ethan Wright moved to Newton when he was five years old and has made the Tiger basketball community an integral part of his identity.

He played in local town leagues, went to Newton North basketball games, and then, prior to eighth grade attended the Tigers’ yearly summer basketball camp.

Mobley, a counselor at the camp, knew right away Wright was a future star.

“You could already tell at the camp that he was going to be really good,” recalled Mobley. “As an eighth grader, he already had developed skills that were rare for any high school player.”

As the years have gone on, those rare skills have shown themselves in emphatic fashion.

While still fairly unknown throughout the rest of the state Wright impressed his fellow teammates and legendary head coach Paul Connolly his freshman year. He drilled five three pointers in his varsity debut and scored 10 points over the final 10 minutes to help the Tigers defeat crosstown rival Newton South.

Most impressive, however, was the athleticism that he showed right out of the gate.

Despite being barely six-feet, 150 pounds, and just over 14 years of age, Wright was consistently leaving his teammates in awe with his bounce out of the gym.

Often Wright would hang in the air for a seemingly infinite amount of time to allow the pursing defender to overcommit before pulling back and finishing with the reverse.

As the early stages of his high school career wore on Wright appeared to be jumping higher by the day. One day, able to touch the rim, then weeks later dunking with two hands, and eventually showing off his best windmill dunk.

“With each week would jump higher and higher,” said Mobley.

Wright showed signs of his future well-rounded abilities as a player during his sophomore season. He won the Bay State Carey's Most Valuable Player award and took the Division 1 South Sectional tournament by storm.

In a second round win over Taunton, Wright scored 28 points but it was in the Tigers’ sectional final loss to Catholic Memorial where Wright raised eyebrows.

He used his length, quickness, athleticism, and marksmanship from the all over the court to score 17 first quarter points, including 11 in a row.

“You couldn’t guard him,” said Knights’ guard Justin Leip who had the privilege of defending Wright. “You just had to make his shots as difficult as possible and hope he missed.”

Following his sophomore season, Wright took off.

Throughout the spring and over the summer Wright played for the New England Playaz on the AAU circuit gaining national exposure as he traveled the country.

He played against some of the top high school players in the country, and quickly proved that he belonged amongst them.

“I got to travel the world for three summers and I got to go all over the place and play the best players in the world,” said Wright. “The ESPN top 100 just came out and I played against almost every kid on that list. I don’t have all the rankings, that doesn’t matter that much to me, but AAU has really given me confidence to play at the next level. It has helped me get here.”

Kellan Grady, now one of the top freshmen in the country at Davidson, played in the same AAU program as Wright and noticed his potential.

“Ethan has an incredible knack for scoring,” said Grady. “He is a terrific shooter and has a great ability to attack and score from both mid-range and at the rim.”

As his junior season edged closer the now six-foot three-inch guard continued work on his three-point shooting knowing that his athleticism came naturally.

“My athleticism has always been the easiest part of my game that I can rely on,” said Wright. “Three point shooting is always something I have wanted to improve on and so that was a lot of my focus. Getting as many shots up as possible.”

That improvement showed itself in one the Tigers first contests of Wright’s junior year. Once again against the Knights, Wright scored 40 points to go with 12 rebounds. He also added a pair of breakaway dunks.

The interest from colleges picked up and Wright received offers from St. Louis, Vermont, Wofford, Delaware, Colgate, Brown, Yale, William and Mary, and Boston University.

There was one, however, that suck out. It ended up being the one that Wright ultimately chose to accept to remain a Tiger for four more years.

 “I wouldn’t say when Princeton offered it was an automatic,” said Wright. “I went ‘woah’ because my mom played basketball there so that gave me at least a little familiarity. The way the coaches communicated with me set them apart.”

The rising senior had become enamored with the way Connolly had coached him at Newton North.

Never receiving preferential treatment as his status as the team’s star player, Wright became more than just a pure scorer. Connolly put emphasis on Wright being a team-first player, who added defense and rebounding to already a strong scoring skillset.

“In the system I run there’s a lot of pressure put on Ethan,” said Connolly. “His ability as a scorer is incredible. He was the kid that could go out in eighth grade and score 50 to 60 points a game. But we ask him to do a lot more and he has responded. He is as coachable a kid as there is.”

Wright, for his part, appreciated the importance of a coach who always demanded the very best from everyone on the roster.

“Coach (Connolly) holds everyone accountable,” said Wright. “No one talks back, no nonsense. You could be Anthony Gurley or the last kid on the bench.”

“I look up to the coaching staff. I always have. They used to scare me when I was a freshman but once you’re around them for a couple years, you see everything they’re doing and it makes sense. They’re my friends and just great models."

One final decision prior to his commitment loomed for Wright, a choice that almost every high-level amateur player now faces.

The idea of going to prep school donned on him especially as he watched his AAU teammates reclassify in hopes of playing better competition and receive greater college exposure.

But for Wright, the choice was always an easy one. There was never anything to think about. The opportunity to play basketball for the town he grew up in was one he was determined to fulfill and one he takes pride in.

“It means a lot to me, to get to play in front of your family and friends everyday,” said Wright. “Looking out in the crowd and seeing your mom and dad, your brother and sister, and your best friend and your girl friend. It means a lot to me and I think its really important for me to have schools like this and towns like this to have events that communities like to get involved in.”

With the tough choices behind him, Wright's sole focus is now on playing the game he loves alongside his closest friends.

When not throwing one down off the break or splashing a three pointer he is using his athleticism to go after offensive rebounds.

All too often opposing defenses think they have the Tigers stopped only for Wright to come flying down the floor for a tip in and two more points.

“I love to go for those weak side rebounds because those are back breakers,” said Wright of his ability to rebound. “Whether it’s an offensive rebound for a three or an offensive put back, its tough for defending teams to stop teams that are attacking the glass every single time so that is something we focus on.”

What other milestones Wright adds to his collection over the final weeks of his career is a still a question.

Prior to Newton North's game against Walpole on Tuesday night, Wright was honored for his nomination as a McDonald's All-American.

In the Tigers' ensuing win over the Rebels, he passed the 1,500-point plateau and sits fourth all-time in Tigers history in scoring. Anthony Gurley sits atop the list at 1,857 career points.

He is also in pursuit of his second Bay State Carey Most Valuable Player award as well his ultimate goal – helping the Tigers to their first state championship since they went back-to-back in 2005-06.

“Ethan is always in the gym working on the gun trying to get better,” said Connolly. “And as evidenced by going to Princeton he also works really hard in the classroom. I’m telling you, Princeton is getting a terrific kid in so many ways.”

No matter what other boxes Wright checks off he has already cemented himself as a Tiger for life.

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