Wright Leads Strong Inside Crew At ERHS
Posted: January 21, 2013
ELKTON – John Wright is back.
Sure, he’s been in East Rockingham High School’s basketball lineup since December, but the 6-foot-2 power forward is truly back to being his explosive, jump-out-of-the-gym self – and apparently then some.
His season definitely didn’t start out that way.
ERHS coach Mark Palmer admittedly rushed the exceptional athlete out on to the hardwood, excited by the po all-state first-team campaign at wide receiver with the football team, which reached the second round of the Division 2 playoffs and nearly knocked off top-seeded Essex. Wright even played running back for the first time that night at Essex and was effective.
But he also fractured a bone in his ankle during that final football contest on Nov. 16.
Days later, after noticing that Wright was missing a pep in his step, Palmer shut him down the rest of the month and an X-ray revealed the injury that nobody knew about.
“I didn’t know how bad it was. Nobody did. And it kept swelling up and I said, ‘Wait a second. Something isn’t right here,’” Palmer said. “… It took him a little while to get acclimated to basketball and what we wanted him to do, and it just seems like this past week he’s really picked it up.”
Coming off a career-high 28 points against Stonewall Jackson, Wright has put together his best three-game stretch of his career, Palmer said. It just so happened to be East Rock’s second three-game winning streak of the season.
The Eagles (10-7 overall, 6-3 in the Shenandoah District) had zero such streaks in their first two years of existence.
“John’s a special kid and a special athlete,” Palmer said. “Now, he’s finally realizing, ‘Wow. I just need to jump right over people and use my athleticism right now.’ And that’s what he’s doing.”
ERHS point guard Tyler Hensley said Wright’s 20-point, 10-rebound performance at Riverheads on Jan. 11 was the first time he looked 100 percent recovered from the ankle injury. Apparently, Wright also had a psychological edge in that matchup.
“We were telling him that he always has a big game against Riverheads, so he did and got his confidence up,” said Hensley.
A lot of dealing with Wright comes down to psychology, as Palmer pointed out. Typically quiet and difficult to read, Wright seems to play at his best when he’s confident – and lately, he’s been feeling good on the floor.
Wright hit seven of his first eight field-goal attempts against Stonewall. So what’s been Wright’s secret? Being healthy has certainly helped Wright elevate his game, but he also credited his team’s support.
Having a 30-inch vertical doesn’t hurt him either.
“I’ve always had mismatches all three years, most of the time,” said Wright, who Palmer said has improved in shooting and finishing around the rim. “Most teams don’t have a true post player. We have three or four. So we have an advantage in our post game over other teams.”
East Rock might be the deepest team in the league in terms of post players, rolling out sophomore Jeff Bailey and juniors Joseph Gooden and Shaquan James, along with Wright, inside. All four have the opportunity to start, Wright said, which is something that’s made this season very different from past ones. And more competition in practice has led to improved play on the court.
Seven Eagles on Palmer’s 11-man roster are listed at forward or center – most checking in at 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3. Wright isn’t necessarily the best post player.
“He’s the best athlete. He’s an athlete playing basketball,” Palmer said. “He’s just so athletic.”
Without Wright and while finding their best lineup early this season, East Rock struggled. Now, the Eagles have won eight of their last 10 and own a winning record for the first time this far into a season. Previously, ERHS hadn’t been above .500 after Dec. 9.
Palmer had to rack his brain when asked who in the district best defended East Rock’s post players. In other words, who was the team that matched up the best against ERHS’s biggest strength? The answer, surprisingly, was Stuarts Draft – and it had nothing to do with its size.
The Cougars are in their second season running the Grinnell system, a frenetic scheme that has already produced well over 1,000 shots for Draft, including 620 3-point attempts in just 12 games. By inducing turnovers on defense and hitting a modest percentage of those 3s, Draft can pretty much render East Rock’s post players irrelevant, Palmer said.
It’s a matchup that worries more than just ERHS. Lee coach Jarrett Hatcher said his team practiced 7-on-5 just to try to emulate Draft’s rare pace in preparation for a game on Wednesday night.
Beating Draft is one problem for East Rock. Catching Page County is another.
But the ultimate goal, as Hensley pointed out, was to make amends for a poor finish last season and make a regional run.
“All we had to do was win one game in our last four games and we didn’t win any,” Hensley recalled. “If we would’ve, we would’ve went to regionals. So, we’ll easily make it to regionals this year.”
And a healthy Wright – who is looking for his first all-district basketball honor after two inconsistent seasons – might be the driving force behind another playoff run for ERHS fans to get behind.
“He puts us at another level,” Palmer said.