As an NBA player with NBA friends who are tough judges of talent, Dorell Wright knew people like Amir Johnson and Jeff Adrien weren’t shoveling aimless compliments his way.
More importantly, he trusted his own eyes. In July, Wright — a 6-foot-10 small forward who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers — had just advanced to the championship of the Drew League in Los Angeles with his little brother Delon running the point.
In one of the most competitive summer leagues around the country, the pressure to perform is immense. But playing against NBA guys and overseas professionals didn’t shake Delon Wright one bit. In fact, he thrived, playing a mature game that measured beyond his years. Dorell Wright was a witness. So were Johnson and Adrien — both of whom currently play in the Association. Excited beyond measure, Dorell picked up his phone, drummed up his Twitter page and sent out the following tweet:
“Utah really doesn’t know what they are getting with my brother Delon,. He’s the real deal.”
Five months later, nobody is disagreeing. The Utes are a week away from starting Pac-12 play. The Utes are 11-1 in nonconference play, and hopes are high as they enter Year 3 of the Larry Krystkowiak era.
Wright is one of the main reasons. The 6-foot-5 point guard averages 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, six assists and 2.8 steals per game. He shoots better than 71 percent from the field, an astounding number for a guard. He is arguably the best college basketball player in the state of Utah.
“My experience here has been pretty satisfying so far,” Wright said. “It’s good to get a little notice because I’ve been working so hard. But I have way more to prove and a lot of work to do.”
When Wright plays, it is impossible not to notice how smooth he is with the ball in his hands. He never lets himself get into a rush. Defenders can’t hurry him. He’s consistently under control.
Which is ironic, because Wright’s path to Utah has been anything but smooth.
While Dorell Wright became a high school All-American, went to prep school and became one of the last preps-to-pros prospects to find success in the NBA, Delon encountered academic problems, battled bouts of immaturity and had to go the junior college route.
The talent was always there. Delon always stood out when he did play. But until recently, he didn’t realize how much work went into being a good student at the Division I level.
“It was pretty tough at times,” Wright said. “I spent three years trying to get my grades right. My ninth and 10th grade years were pretty bad, so I went the prep school route.”
Wright is hardly unique in this aspect. There are plenty of prospects who put basketball before books. But that’s where bad luck came in. Wright transferred to Rise Academy in Philadelphia, which he said turned out to be an unhappy experience. Lacking the grades or test scores to play Division I college basketball out of high school, he was forced to enroll at City College of San Francisco.
Delon and Dorell grew closer as Delon’s career progressed. Dorell left home at 17 to go to South Kent Prep in Connecticut. He would be drafted into the NBA a year later. He saw what Delon went through. He took his brother under his wing. There was tough love involved. One day, he sat Delon down and told him he was on his way to being a cautionary tale, a real basketball talent from inner-city Los Angeles who should have made it.
To this day, the two talk or text before every game. If the Trail Blazers are playing, Dorell’s phone is ringing. It’s the same way if Utah has a game. It’s their family tradition.
“I’m proud of both of my boys,” said Ray Wright. “They’ve worked hard, and both are doing their best to be good people and capitalize on their talents. I’m not surprised by what Delon’s doing. He’s been doing this since he was a sophomore in high school.”
The road back
Delon Wright became a good student in junior college. He learned not to procrastinate, and how to manage his time. He also became one of the very best juco talents in the country, a two-time California Player of the Year.
Wright was a recruiting steal for the Utes. He had offers from Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State and drew interest from just about every school in the Pac-12. He chose Utah because he had a chance to play right away for what was a struggling team under Krystkowiak. While sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge became the first major in-state recruit for the program, Wright became the first real national get for Krystkowiak.
“He’s been great for us,” Krystkowiak said. “He’s been a great player, but he’s also been a very good leader with his play. He’s worked hard at every part of his game and he’s someone who could garner a lot of attention down the road.”
Through 11 games as a Ute, Wright has already had some signature moments. He had 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in a win over Fresno State. He had 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against Boise State. But his ability to lock up BYU’s Matt Carlino defensively in Utah’s win over the Cougars may be what Ute fans remember the most.
As a 10-year pro, Dorell Wright thinks Delon could someday join him in the league. He recalls those summer nights when established players approached him and bragged about Delon’s game. He smiles, knowing that the hardships Delon went through paid off for him. Then, the smile fades, knowing that there’s still work to be done.
“He definitely has the talent and the IQ to play at that level,” Dorell Wright said. “He’s a great playmaker. He has to fill out his body, grow into his body and develop a more consistent jumper. But he can take over a game. He just fills the stat sheet.”
Delon Wright file
Essentials • 6-foot-5, junior point guard
From • Los Angeles
Before Utah • Went to prep school in Philadelphia and played two years of junior college ball in San Francisco.
This season • Averaging 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6 assists per game.
Siblings • Is the younger brother of Portland Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright.