Minneapolis It didn’t take a 27-point, 10-rebound game against West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self to appreciate the talent of Dayton’s 6-foot-8, 226-pound sophomore Chris Wright.
“I watched him play in high school when he was being recruited, and I thought to myself, ‘Boy, did Dayton get a steal in this guy,’ because he’s really good,” Self said. “How many guys out there are that tall, that physically gifted from a strength standpoint and have a 40-inch vertical, or close to it?”
Wright didn’t have any trouble coming up with an answer, though the player he talked about never wore a college uniform.
Wright’s teammate, starting junior guard Marcus Johnson, teamed with LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High.
“The first time I saw him wearing LeBron’s shorts I said, ‘That’s got to be weird. You played with him, and now he’s an international icon and you get to call him up and talk to him.’ It’s kind of amazing,” Wright said. “I went home with Marcus, and we played open gym with LeBron a few times. I had to check him. It was crazy. He’s just so strong and just so fast and that big. It’s crazy how fast he can move and be that big.”
Wright broke up laughing when asked if he figured out a way to guard King James.
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “But he had to check me, too. I tried to make him run.”
Did he score on him?
“Three or four times,” Wright said. “It’s crazy when you can count how many times you scored on a guy and remember it.”
The signature moment of Dayton’s mini-upset victory against West Virginia came when Wright had the ball on a breakaway, stretched his arm all the way back and threw it down.
“We call it The LeBron,” Wright said. “And that was kind of like a salute to LeBron, especially being from Ohio. ... That’s the signature dunk that he did against Oak Hill Academy his senior year (on national TV). And Marcus said he was the one who threw the ball to him.”
Wright said he put holes in walls and doors practicing dunks on makeshift hoops throughout the house in which he grew up in Trotwood, Ohio, across the river from Dayton.
“I used to hide the holes in the wall, put posters and all types of stuff to hide the holes,” Wright said. “My mom said she used to hear me. It echoed through the whole house, and the whole house vibrated. I tried to cover it up, but you know, mom always knows.”
Dunking is what Wright does second-best, ranking behind winning. He missed 19 games as a freshman, and Dayton went 10-9 without him. With Wright, UD is 40-9, 28-0 in home games, and 5-1 against ranked opponents.
Skilled at drawing fouls, Wright poses another difficult matchup for Kansas, and Marcus Morris appears best equipped to guard him.
Asked if he has cut down his fouls, Morris said, “Nah, I will still be fouling a lot, just sometimes the refs don’t see it. But when they do see it, they always give it to me. I think I am sliding a little better. Earlier in the season I was being too aggressive with my hands and getting too many touch fouls.”
Kansas 74, Dayton 64.