When Trotwood-Madison senior Chris Wright committed to the University of Dayton in the fall of his junior year, hoop diehards from the basketball-crazed Dayton area didn't know exactly what to make of his decision.
After watching the area's elite ballers snub the Flyers in favor of schools like Ohio State (see Dunbar's Daequan Cook from the Class of 2006) and Xavier (see Chaminade-Julienne's Derrick Brown from the Class of 2005), the Dayton faithful had to wonder if Wright truly was the real deal. And if he indeed was, would he turn his back on the Flyers if major-conference schools came calling?
But by the time the 6-foot-7, 225-pound small forward signed his letter of intent with Dayton in November, any doubts about whether or not Wright was the real deal had been erased. The perceived loyalty thing? No longer an issue.
These days, the consensus is that Wright will join the Flyers this fall as their most celebrated recruit in more than 20 years. Why the drastic change of public opinion in one year's time? That's easy: Wright provided one of the area's most exciting and memorable seasons ever during the 2005-06 campaign.
The high-flying Wright averaged 17.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per contest last year to help lead the Rams to the Division I state title game. In doing so, T-M became the first Dayton-area Division I school to qualify for the state tournament since Ohio expanded to its current four-division format in 1988. Success like that isn't taken lightly in Wright's community, and he became the face of the team thanks to the awe-inspiring brand of basketball he plays. In addition to the double-double he averaged last year, Wright blocked 5.2 shots per contest and was usually good for a few monster dunks in each game.
"Things got crazy around here last year," says Wright, who is rated the nation's No. 10 small forward and No. 63 overall recruit in the Class of 2007 by RISE. "But you never feel pressure when you're doing something you love. We had a great team and we were all friends. It was unforgettable."
Wright built his status as a local legend through performances like the one he had against Oak Hills in a come-from-behind overtime victory in the district championship. After being held scoreless in the first half, Wright took control in the second half and overtime, piling up five blocks, two dunks and all 16 of his points. T-M coach Larry Ham believes Wright's legend will only continue to grow.
"A lot of people are really looking forward to watching Chris during his senior season and beyond," says Ham. "I don't think he'll disappoint at any level."
Ham may only be in his first year with the Rams, but he knows plenty about Wright. Ham coached the previous 15 seasons at one of T-M's Greater Western Ohio Conference rivals, Springfield South.
So while Ham didn't officially meet Wright until last spring, the coach's unofficial introduction came during a Trotwood-Springfield South matchup during Wright's sophomore year. Wright, who dunked for the first time as a sixth-grader, opened the game with dunks on the Rams' first three possessions.
"I've coached some leapers in my time, but I've never seen anything like that," Ham says. "Three possessions into the game and I'm thinking, 'Where did this kid come from?' I had to call a timeout to settle my kids down."
As extraordinary as Wright was as a sophomore, Ham is even more impressed with the player's game two years later. Known as a shot-blocking specialist who scored most of his points on dunks as a sophomore, Wright is now as comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter and pulling up for 14-footers as he is with banging on the inside while looking for put-back flushes.
"Now that he's comfortable with the ball in his hands on the outside, his whole game opens up," Ham says. "How do you guard a 6-foot-7 guy who can shoot and drive and loves to run the floor? Against most teams we play, he's a man among boys. It all goes back to his work ethic."
Wright has a trio of older brothers to thank for that work ethic. As a kid, Wright would join his brothers -- who are each at least 10 years his elder -- on the court for some vicious games of 2-on-2. Wright would get dunked on and knocked to the ground but get up every time and come back for more.
Through those early encounters, he developed a toughness that translated well to the gridiron. In fact, Wright preferred football to hoops until his sophomore year, when he averaged 15.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game, showing signs of what was to come the following winter.
"I try to model my game after LeBron [James]," says Wright, who earned the nickname Flyght as a freshman thanks to his eye-popping jumping ability. "He's a perfect example of how far someone can get by hard work. He's obviously got game, but people don't give his work ethic enough credit. The man works, and I try to take the same approach."
By the end of this season, Wright hopes to have a couple more things in common with King James, including a state title and a Mr. Basketball award. Wright also hopes to join LeBron in the NBA one day, though he'll have to take a different route to get there. While LeBron jumped straight to the NBA out of high school, Wright is hoping college is a place where he can take his game to the next level.
"The coaches from the big schools always asked, 'Do you want to play in the NBA?' They'd tell me I'd never get there by going to Dayton," Wright says. "Of course I want to play in the NBA, that's everybody's goal. But on draft night, you don't hold up your college jersey and say, 'I went to Duke, draft me.' You get drafted based on how good you are and how hard you work. None of that is determined by your college jersey."
That has to be music to the ears of Dayton fans everywhere.