Basketball already has taken Jay Wright far across the United States. Now, it has taken him to the other side of the world.
The former Effingham County High School star and current all-Sun Belt Conference guard for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette spent two weeks in China, playing basketball for Reach USA. The team is a product of Sports Reach, an athletics-based Christian ministry and outreach endeavor. Wright was part of the basketball friendship tour to the Far East.
“It was an outstanding place to be,” Wright said. “I never thought I’d get a chance to go to China. It was a big blessing for me to get to go all the way there and show my talent.”
Sports Reach executive director Robby Speer saw Wright play during the college season and asked him to join the team.
“He watched me play a lot of games my first year at Lafayette and I had an outstanding first year at Lafayette, so they offered me to be the USA Sports Reach point guard,” Wright said.
During his two weeks in China, Wright averaged 10.1 points per game, along with 4.5 rebounds and four assists per game. Wright and other collegians went up against professional players from Russia and China.
“They were older guys, pro players. Some of them were making half a million (dollars),” Wright said. “It was good competition. I felt I got better playing against different people in that atmosphere.”
The level of play wasn’t the only adjustment, by far, Wright had to make. He wasn’t a fan of the food over there and the playing atmosphere also took some adaption. Basketball arenas in the U.S. routinely prohibit smoking. It’s still an accepted and normal custom overseas.
The air in several parts of China also can be an issue, as smog is another common happenstance.
“It’s hard to breathe out there,” Wright said, “but you’ve got to fight through it. It was way different. It was just a whole different world. It’s not close to Clyo.”
Wright also has spent a couple of months in Lafayette, working out and practicing, along with getting in weight lifting.
“It’s been real good,” he said of his offseason work.
In his first season at Louisiana-Lafayette, Wright averaged 9.1 points per game, starting 34 of the 35 contests in which he played. He led the team with 3.6 assists per game, stepping into a spot vacated by NBA first-round draft pick Elfrid Payton, and he also had 3.1 rebounds per game.
What the third-team all-Sun Belt Conference selection has been trying to hone are some technical and some less visible aspects of the game. He’s worked on using his left hand more and on his 3-point shooting.
Wright also is working on “being more of a coach on the floor,” he said, and being better at running the team. He also is putting in an effort to be better at end-of-game situations and “grinding out big games.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns were 22-14 last year, going 2-1 in the postseason Collegeinsider.com tournament. They lost by four points to eventual Sun Belt champ Georgia State in the conference semifinals, and the Panthers reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. ULL returns seven of its top eight scorers, while Georgia State lost guard R.J. Hunter to the NBA draft. Georgia Southern also was hit hard by graduation, losing all five of their top scorers, including Jelani Hewitt and Trent Wiedeman. Of the 15 players on the Eagles roster, 12 are either freshmen or sophomores.
The Ragin’ Cajuns signing class includes 6-foot-11 center Larenz Stalcup of Snow College in Utah. They also inked Jerekius Davis, rated by rivals.com as a three-star prospect, out of Mississippi.
“We got a big chance to win it,” Wright said. “We’ve got everybody coming back and we added a lot of pieces to our team. We should be ready to roll and get to the NCAA tournament.”
One thing China didn’t have that Effingham does possess in abundance on a hot summer afternoon is gnats.
“Oh, no,” Wright said.