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Feb. 15, 2012
Sharone Wright will stick to basketball, thank you very much. But with his reputation, shouldn't somebody draft him for politics? Cynics might say he'd make a fine obstructionist legislator.
Clemson's ACC Legend could reject attempts with the best in Washington in a career that took him from Macon, Ga., to Tigertown and the NBA. He still stands 10th in ACC history in total blocks (288) and blocks per game (3.13) some 18 years after his final Tiger contest. His timing and work ethic made him the sixth overall pick of the 1994 NBA draft.
"I think it comes back to when I was a younger kid," he said. "I worked out with a former Laker, Myles Patrick, who was a really big influence on me. He would lean on me every time I jumped. I learned the rules of shot-blocking and positioning really early."
One of the first McDonald's All-Americans to sign with Clemson, Wright became an unmistakable presence on both ends of the court, earning third-team All-ACC honors in 1993 and a second-team selection in his final campaign. He rejected 10 shots in two games of a two-week stretch in his sophomore season and had a six-game run as a junior that featured averages of 17.7 points, 12 rebounds and 4.2 blocks per contest.
"I was going to go to Duke, but my father said he wanted me to go to a place where it would be my team," Wright said. "And (coach) Cliff Ellis made it my team. Everything he said he'd do, he did it."
In the process, Wright competed favorably against a group of other ACC big men that includes another 2012 Legend, Malcolm Mackey of Georgia Tech, in addition to Duke's Christian Laettner, North Carolina's Eric Montross, and Joe Smith of Maryland, who became the No. 1 overall pick in 1995.
Wright went to the Philadelphia 76ers, who, curiously enough, released former Duke star Johnny Dawkins to make room for him on the 1994-95 roster. Earning playing time right away, Wright evoked comparisons to Moses Malone, the former Sixers legend. Although not the dominant offensive player that Malone was, Wright once paid tribute to him in a Sports Illustrated article in which he said he sought to emulate everything about the guy - including mannerism such as walking hunched over to give the opponent the impression he was fatigued when he was still full of energy.
Wright was a second-team All-Rookie selection that season, and it's bittersweet to wonder what he might have done if not for a car accident in July 1997.
Wright was doing volunteer work in his hometown for the Harriet Tubman Museum, the largest center devoted to African-American art, history and culture in the South, when he lost control of his vehicle. The car flipped over four times and Wright suffered a shattered elbow, fractures in both arms and other injuries.
He was only a little more than one year removed from the best individual season of his life. After being traded from Philadelphia to Toronto, he averaged 16.5 points in 11 games for the Raptors. The following season, 1996-97, Wright's effectiveness was mitigated by a shoulder ailment that hadn't fully healed when the accident amplified the problems.
Working on the mechanics of his game was out of the question. Wright was in a cast until February of 1998, and when he did make it back, he logged only 44 minutes in seven contests. His NBA days were over.
His career was not. Wright kept working out and ultimately carved out a career overseas, helping teams to championships in Poland and The Netherlands. He also played in South Korea, China, Greece and Spain in a tenure that lasted until 2007.
"I found out that basketball is everywhere and not just in the NBA," he said. "I met a lot of good people. It worked out. I'm happy about it."
Here's some context: The first ACC player chosen in that 1994 draft was Duke's Grant Hill, the third selection. He's still playing in the NBA. Wright, a 6-11 center, is of a different body type than Hill, and that makes comparisons less than perfect. But it is fair to presume the accident trimmed at least a few seasons off his NBA career.
While Wright does wonder about that, he is concentrating these days on a variety of basketball-related ventures in and around Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where he resides with his wife and four children.
"I was going to go back and coach in Europe this year, but the money was not correct," he said. "And I decided to stay home and try to nourish my family the way I should."