The game that propelled Justin Wright-Foreman’s career was a blowout loss. Hofstra was playing Kentucky at the Barclays Center in Dec. 2016. Early in the second half, the Pride were down by 20. With 5:59 remaining, Wright-Foreman—guarded by John Calipari’s son, Brad—made a layup. Then his life changed. He would score 14 points in 17 total minutes in that game, and though the Pride lost 96-73, something clicked.
“I turned into the player I needed to be,” the 6’2” junior says. “Attacking the basket, having the mindset: I’m a killer.”
This killer guard is now one of the best pure scorers in the nation. He’s averaging 25.1 points a game, third-best in the country behind Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn. He’s also racked up five 30-plus-point games.
“A lot of people don’t know who I am,” Wright-Foreman says. “I’m just trying to awaken a lot of people’s eyes, bring more attention to Hofstra.”
With the way he’s playing, there will be a whole lot of eyes on him come March.
Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich first saw Wright-Foreman in a summer tournament in Las Vegas. In the first quarter, Wright-Foreman scored 12 points. Mihalich texted his assistants: Yo, he’s already got 12. Then halftime hits. Another text: He’s got 25. Then it’s the end of the third. One more text: He’s got like 40!
“That’s the first time you realize, holy cow, this guy can really score,” Mihalich says.
But that scoring ability wouldn’t translate right away to the college game. Both Mihalich and Wright-Foreman agree that his defense was subpar. “I was a two [out of 10],” Wright-Foreman says. “He wasn’t used to having to guard players as good as him,” says Mihalich.
But after the Kentucky game, it was impossible not to play him. The next game against Stony Brook, he scored 22. He had multiple 30-plus-point games against William and Mary. In the 37 games between the Kentucky performance and a recent win over James Madison, Wright-Foreman scored 859 points. In his previous 37, he scored just 132.
“A lot of people thought I couldn’t put the ball in the basket at the collegiate level,” he says. “Too short, can’t play defense, the usual. It was me having the confidence in myself and [remembering] this is who you are, just keep playing the way I am. I model my game after Damian Lillard, especially being at a mid-major school. I had to incorporate that and just be fearless.”
And it’s not just on offense. Wright-Foreman has improved greatly on defense—“I’m like a seven-and-a-half or eight,” he says now—and often guards the opposing team’s best player. He believes he’s on the NBA track, although at 6’2”, he needs to work on his point guard skills.
“He’s a prideful kid,” Mihalich says. “I talk about, do you feel like you have to do something, or do you feel like you want to do something? When you feel like you want to do something, then you’re going to be really good. Justin wanted to be a better defensive player. He wanted to be a really good player.”
Hofstra is 12-8, third in the Colonial Athletic conference. They have Wright-Foreman, along with Rokas Gustys, who is seventh in the nation in rebounding (11.5). Eli Pemberton provides secondary scoring (15.2 points). But they are in an underrated, tough league, which may make it difficult to reach the tournament.
“Everyone’s going to have 18 games that are gonna feel like a root canal,” Mihalich says with a laugh. But most of those root canals will come at the hands of Wright-Foreman, who seemingly gets better with every game. Ask him why fans should tune in to his game, and he rattles off his attributes: “Just how much passion I play with, how fiery my game is, how gritty I am, how tough I am.”
Wright-Foreman radiates confidence—some of that stems from his play this season, some of it is inherent. Wherever it comes from, it’s working. After every season, Wright-Foreman opens the notes app on his phone and writes a few goals down. This season? Player of the Year. Lead the team in assists. Lead the team in points. Be more of a leader. Be more vocal. He’s on track for all of those goals. He also wants to bring attention to Hofstra, a school more famous for breeding Jay Wright than anything else in recent years.
That goal is still a work in progress. But if he keeps this up, the secret will be out before long.
“You’re gonna know who Justin Wright-Foreman is pretty quick," says Mihalich.