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Wooden Watch: Delon Wright relying on old lessons to create new tricks

In the race for the Wooden Award, Frank Kaminsky still leads Willie Cauley-Stein, and we take a closer look at Utah's Delon Wright.

The last time the Wright brothers played one-on-one, Delon won the first game. The do-everything 6’5” Utah guard felt good about his game in the summer going into his senior season, so he started talking a little trash. Then Dorell, a veteran 6’9” wing man with the Portland Trail Blazers, responded by winning the next four in a row.

“I’ve been beating him since we were young,” says Dorell, who is a little over six years older than Delon. “The height helps, but I also have always wanted to beat him to give him motivation to get better.”

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They battled first in a bedroom in their home where Ray Wright, their father, installed a toy basket with a real wooden backboard. Dorell would play on his knees to even out their heights. Before Delon was grown enough to compete on a full-size court, Dorell had left Lawndale (Calif.) Leuzinger High for South Kent (Conn.) prep to qualify academically for college. He eventually decided to skip college and declare for the NBA draft. Miami selected him with its first-round pick in 2004.

Delon followed his brother to Leuzinger, and even outshined him, leading the Olympians to their first-ever Southern Section 1-A championship game. But like Dorell, he failed to leave Leuzinger with a diploma. After a brief stint at Rise Academy in Philadelphia, he enrolled at City College of San Francisco. He saw people he had played against competing in D-I basketball while he was stuck in junior college, and knew it was time to take his academics more seriously.

“I used to tell him all the time,” Dorell says, “there’s no more high school to NBA. If you want do anything, you have to lock down those books. When he got to San Francisco, he took it to heart.”

dorell wright trailblazers wooden watch inline

At San Francisco, he also began to develop his reputation as a stat-sheet stuffer. Dorell has a well-earned reputation as a three-point shooter, but Delon has always been more of a slasher. “I love being able to attack and penetrate the lane,” Delon says. “That’s how I can better get my teammates involved too.” He got 10 points and eight rebounds a game while also leading the Rams in steals, assists and blocks. When it was time for him to transition to D-I, he chose Utah over the advice of several friends from L.A. who wanted him to join a contender. He felt like Utah would be a contender if he could contribute right away.

And contribute he did. Last season, Wright led the team in minutes (36.4), points (15.5), assists (5.3), steals (2.5) and blocks (1.3) per game. He finished second in rebounds (6.8), just 0.2 a game behind forward Jordan Loveridge. This year, the No. 9 Utes are more balanced thanks in large part to the emergence of freshman Jakob Poeltl. Wright, though, is still leading the team in minutes (32.4), points (14.3), assists (5.4) and steals (2.3). On’s player of the year rankings, Wright has jumped to No. 2, behind season-long leader Frank Kaminsky.

Despite his 125.7 offensive rating and his excellent 5.4-to-1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, Delon still prides himself on his defense. At home, his brother calls him “Sticky.” His steal percentage of 4.3 is 31st in the country. “I try to think about, what would I do on offense?” Delon says. “If I think they want to go right, I kind of bait them into it and then step in and steal it.”

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Although Delon decided not to jump to the NBA after his junior year, there are several prominent players -- other than Dorell -- who wouldn’t mind having him as a teammate. In the summer of 2013, he played on a summer league team with Dorell, and scored 17 points in a game against a team that featured the Pacers’ Paul George and the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan. Even in pickup games, he became known as the guy who would do everything -- box out and rebound, set picks and get steals. He went from being known as Dorell’s little brother to being the first pick when teams were being put together.

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It’s not hard to imagine that someday soon, little brother and big brother will face off again, but this time surrounded by their NBA teams. “I’d rather play against him than with him,” Delon says. “It’ll be more fun that way.”

This Week's Rankings

1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Year: Senior
Position: Center
Stats: 17.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 54.8 FG%

Who would Wright vote for, other than himself, as player of the year? Frank Kaminsky. “It’s really close between Kaminsky and [Jahlil] Okafor,” he says, “but I’d give the edge to Kaminsky. He’s come a long way in his game, and he’s earned it. And I guess I have a soft spot for seniors.” If only it were that easy!

Class status aside, we’ll stick with Kaminsky at No. 1 because he is still the best offensive option on the nation’s best offensive team. Wisconsin’s offensive rating of 125.4 is on pace to be the best of the era (since 2002). Kaminsky is coming off perhaps his most dominant game of the season, a 68-49 win over Illinois on Sunday, in which he scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Year: Freshman
Position: Center
Stats: 18.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 66.5 FG%

There’s a case to be made that Okafor is college basketball’s most unique player. In a time where big men have been asked to step out and shoot and handle the ball more often, Okafor is comfortable playing old-school, back-to-the-basket hoops. Of the 454 points he’s scored this season, 300 have come on postups or put-backs, according to Synergy Sports data. In other words, 66.1% of the time he’s scoring, he’s in the paint or near the rim. Enjoy Okafor in a Duke uniform while you can; it may be a while before we see another player quite like him.

3. Delon Wright, Utah

Year: Senior
Position: Guard
Stats: 14.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 52.2 FG%

One more note from Dorell: The thing he most admires about his little brother is that he knows when to ask for help. In junior college, when he decided to take his academics more seriously, he made sure he got a tutor who could help him catch up. On the court, he knows he can score when his team needs him, but he doesn’t mind having less pressure to do so. Delon can do everything, but Utah is better this season because he doesn’t have to. 

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

Year: Junior
Position: Center
Stats: 9.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, 60.0 FG%

In Kentucky’s eight games in January, Cauley-Stein only twice had a usage rate above 20%. In Kentucky’s last four games, he’s used 23% of his team’s possessions or more. In other words, he’s being more assertive on offense. And that’s by his own design. On Sunday, he told reporters: “I still like, the whole, like, criticism is, ‘I’m soft,’ or something like that, so I’m just going to start dunking on people. I don’t see how you can call me soft if I’m just dunking on people, so that’s my whole mentality going into games now.” On Tuesday, Tennessee became the latest victim:

willie cauley stein ut dunk gif

5. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

Year: Senior
Position: Guard
Stats: 17.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 6.4 apg, 49.8 FG%

There isn’t a more lopsided Final Four contender than Notre Dame. The Irish have the nation’s second-most efficient offense (with a rating of 121.0) but their defensive efficiency (101.4) is 154th. In other words, if the Irish do reach Indianapolis, it’ll be because Grant shoots them there. After playing his worst game of the season against Duke on Feb. 7, Grant has rebounded with back-to-back 130-plus offensive rating games. In a narrow win over Clemson, he scored 22 points (including 6 of the Irish’s final 10); and against Wake Forest, he scored 24 to go with a 10 assists.