It’s amazing Dion Wright was not recruited by anybody but St. Bonaventure out of high school, considering everything he is doing for the Bonnies this season.
Wright, a 6-foot-7 junior forward, is averaging 13.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and a team-high 37 minutes a game. He’s shooting 47.8 percent from the field. He defends power forwards in the low post. He also can play at the front of the full-court press or at the top of the key in a zone defense.
Wright is Mr. Versatile for the Bonnies, and his development is part of the reason St. Bonaventure is off to a 7-3 start.
“When he brings the energy, he’s a huge part of us,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “He can defend, he can rebound, he does the little things. When he’s playing at 100 percent, he’s as effective a player as we have.”
Nevertheless, Wright was without a single scholarship offer when he was named his district’s player of the year after his senior season at Mayfair High School, just south of downtown Los Angeles. Mayfair High is 20 miles south of the Staples Center, where the Lakers and Clippers play, and 15 miles west of Anaheim, where the baseball Angels play.
Wright wasn’t playing in obscurity. He also started for the Compton Magic, one of the top AAU teams in the country and a program that has produced many dozens of Division I players.
“There’s a lot of schools between California and Olean, N.Y., but everybody passed on him,” Schmidt said. “They didn’t think he was good enough.”
“There’s so many players here in L.A.,” said Etop Udo-Ema, founder and director of the Compton Magic. “That’s a huge part of the problem.
“Guys want to pigeon-hole positions, and they didn’t know what Dion is, really,” Udo-Ema said. “I think that was to his detriment in recruiting. They’re like, what is he? Is he a 2? He’s not a 2 because he doesn’t shoot it well enough. He’s not a 3 because he doesn’t handle it well enough. His strength is on the post, but he’s too small. That’s what they were thinking. So you go through all that, but you miss the fact he’s just a good basketball player. He’s a versatile dude who can just play.”
Schmidt goes way back with Udo-Ema. Schmidt recruited one of the Magic’s players, Anthony Coleman, back in 2000, when Schmidt was an assistant at Xavier.
Three years ago, Coleman was helping out with the Magic after losing his job as an assistant at the University of Southern California.
“Anthony Coleman was the same type of guy as Dion,” Udo-Ema said. “He was low recruited because he grew from 6-3 to 6-9 overnight. Anthony and I were in my garage talking and we were like, ‘We really like Dion. What are we going to do with Dion? I said, ‘Let’s call Schmitty.’ So we called him from my garage, and that started it.”
Bona already had one L.A. player, Jordan Gathers, on the roster.
“I was just blessed that I got a scholarship,” Wright said. “It was an easy transaction because Jordan was here and we grew up together. I wasn’t going to be all the way out here by myself, and at least I knew somebody.”
Schmidt’s staff has done a good job developing Wright.
“I was a lot thinner as a senior in high school,” said Wright, who weighs 220. “I gained a lot of weight, probably 15, 20 pounds.”
“He has a better grasp of what we’re doing, and he’s stronger than he was last year,” Schmidt said.
The irony amid the doubts about Wright’s true position is that from a defensive standpoint, he can be a 2 (off-guard), a 3 (small forward) AND a 4 (power forward). His long arms make him very disruptive to shooters on the wing and help him play bigger closer to the basket.
In Bona’s win over UB, Wright helped hold UB star Justin Moss, a 6-7, 245-pounder, to eight points. Wright had 19 point and eight rebounds.
“Dion Wright’s a tough matchup because he’s quick at the 4-spot,” said UB coach Bobby Hurley. “He can put it on the floor and he creates some problems getting in the lane.”
“He has an uncanny knack for being around the ball at all times,” Udo-Ema said. “He’s just one of those guys who’s like a glue to the ball.”
Wright was picked by Sports Illustrated in preseason to be one of 50 breakout players in the nation. Last year, as Bona’s seventh man, he averaged 22 minutes, 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Wright and Bona have a long season of challenges ahead in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Wright will have to continue to face bigger players down low.
“Being recognized is a nice accomplishment, but I want more for myself,” Wright said. “I just want to help my team to win and do any little thing I have to do, whether it’s defending, rebounding or scoring.”
Bona is off until Tuesday, when it travels to Delaware to face the Blue Hens.