The Ball's Still Bouncing For Wright

Eight months ago, Iowa's Chris Wright almost had basketball taken from him. Now, he's playing better than ever.

All it took was one step, and everything changed.

It was late March, 2012, and Chris Wright was just finishing up practice for his Turkish club, Olin Edirne. After going unselected in the 2011 NBA Draft, he had decided to go overseas to continue his basketball career. He was playing well. He was on the right path.

Then, he fell. As Wright went to touch the baseline at the end of a sprint, his foot gave out from under him and he stumbled.

“It was kind of weird,” Wright said, thinking back on the moment.” I didn’t know, I was thinking maybe I stumbled over my foot or something like that, but that night it got progressively worse and the next morning I came in to shoot early before practice and I lost all sensation in basically my right leg and my right hand.”

From there, the eight-month spin cycle that’s been Wright’s life began.

He immediately sought medical attention. The initial diagnosis, while not definitive at the time, was that he had Multiple Sclerosis – M.S. – disease that attacks the Central Nervous System and, at worst, can cause complete or partial paralysis.

With no notice, this new opponent blindsided a man who, just days prior, had focused himself squarely – often solely – on improving his game in hopes of one day making an NBA roster. In fact, Wright was not even sure of the severity of the problem he faced right away.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what M.S. was,” Wright said with a laugh. “Then I remember a couple of my teammates came into the hospital and I was laying on the bed and they were all looking at me like, ‘oh my God’ like it’s something serious, and I was just like, ‘man, why you all looking at me like that? I don’t even know what’s going on.’”

Soon thereafter -- his playing days indefinitely on hold -- Wright came back to the States to seek further medical attention, where doctors confirmed what he was told in Turkey.

Chris Wright has M.S.

Reports quickly surfaced that he would never play basketball again. A sensationalist media was quick to write his basketball obituary. Twitter exploded with equal measures shock and condolences.

Flash-forward eight months and Wright, NBADLeague.com’s No. 4 overall Prospect – and the top point guard overall – has been enjoying a stellar season as starting point guard for the Iowa Energy. The former Georgetown star is averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 rebounds, in addition to 7.5 assists per game, second in the league only to 2012 NBA Lottery pick Kendall Marshall (7.6), who spent time with the Bakersfield Jam.

Iowa Head Coach Kevin Young runs a system where the point guard is the centerpiece and Young says Wright was immediately comfortable carrying that load.

“This is my sixth year and I haven’t run across too many guys at that position that I have been as impressed with as I have been with Chris,” Young said.

Wright, who said he came into this year in “attack mode”, has amassed five games of 20 points or more, including a 31-point effort against Erie on Dec. 9. He’s managed to stay aggressive without sacrificing control, however, as his assist-to-turnover ratio is second in the league.

This is my sixth year and I haven’t run across too many guys at that position that I have been as impressed with as I have been with Chris.
Kevin Young
So, how did Wright go from reportedly not playing again, to starring in the NBA D-League and, by many accounts, finding himself on the cusp of an NBA Call-Up? Well, that’s the real story.

While it was his physical ability being threatened, it was his mental edge that helped him persevere, Wright said. Despite the reports and the harsh realities of M.S., that he always believed he’d play basketball again.

“It was frightening for a minute, but I never once got down about it,” Wright said. “It was just like, whatever the process is; I’ll do what I have to do.”

Working in his favor was doctors’ ability to pinpoint the disease at an early stage.

“What happens with a lot of people is they’ll have a symptom or what they clinically call it, an episode, and people will wait maybe five or ten years before they do anything and it will come back ten times harder,” Wright said.

Given that Wright plays sports professionally – and that, as a result, he’s so closely monitored -- the claim can be made, in a way, that that basketball may have saved Wright from much greater peril later in life.

Now, the initial scare in the rear view, it appears Wright will not struggle to maintain a normal life.

“It’s not going to affect me at all,” Wright said. “I just have to stay on my medicine and constantly watch my diet a little bit, but in terms of affecting what I’m doing and playing and just being a regular young man, it doesn’t affect me at all.”

By all accounts, Wright handled the tribulation with class and positivity, and those who know him are not surprised by this.

“It’s a neat story of perseverance,” Young said. “From a character standpoint, a guy goes through a little adversity -- obviously something like that can be kind of serious -- but it didn’t de-rail him. It was a little bump in the road and he’s moved past it and will obviously continue to do so. That’s definitely a testament to his character.”v Wright’s tale has, even in a short period of time, inspired some of his teammates.

“When you see stories like that, you know, people like him and Adrian Peterson, it definitely inspires you to know that if he can go through things like that, I need to be able to go through my little things which is nowhere near as bad,” Iowa forward Paul Harris said.

The lessons are not just for those around him, however, as the situation has given Wright a whole new perspective on life.

“When you go through something health-related, you get such an appreciation for everything that you have,” Wright said. “Like I took for granted walking and that not feeling weird. At first it was awkward to walk, it was awkward to grab things.

“Now I just don’t take things for granted. As cliché as it sounds, it’s real.”

As for his basketball future, that is real, too.

He is playing some of the best basketball of his career and is putting in the requisite work to make it to the next level. Harris, who is also Wright’s roommate on the road, called Wright a “student of the game” and applauded his work ethic. And that’s high praise coming from a Syracuse guy that competed against Wright at Georgetown.

“I’ll tell you one thing, I’m glad that I’m playing with him now, not against him.
Paul Harris
I’ll tell you one thing, I’m glad that I’m playing with him now, not against him,” Harris joked.

Wright actually spent training camp with the New Orleans Hornets prior to this season -- just months after being diagnosed -- but as New Orleans Assistant GM Tim Connelly said, the organization was not at all deterred by his medical condition after they reviewed the facts. And, in his short time with New Orleans, one of the Energy’s affiliates, Wright made an impression with Hornets brass.

“We told him when we let him go, it wasn’t an easy decision. He made it hard on us,” Connelly said. “He’s going to be (in the NBA) sooner rather than later.”

Once again, though, Wright’s biggest selling point is his attitude. It helped him through his ordeal and it could propel him even further in his career.

“He’s a heck of a a guy, a big- time worker and he’s hungry,” Connelly said. “He’s got a hunger that I think defines the best guys in the D-League and, often times, that hunger and want for more is what allows them to play in (the NBA).”

Sure Wright, like just about every other player in the NBA D-League, stays focused on one day playing in the NBA. But, for a player that almost saw his dreams abruptly taken from him, he’s come to appreciate the simple fact that he is still playing at all.

“I constantly remind myself that you have to cherish every minute that you’re out there because the ball is going to stop bouncing – sometimes much earlier than you want it too.”

Thankfully for Chris Wright, that time has not come yet.

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