Wright man for the job: Local basketball star excels in AAU play

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D.J. Wright pulls up for a 3-pointer during the Greene County boys basketball team’s game at Aquinas High School this past season.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

 

 

Danahj Wright always knew he wanted to be a basketball star.

When he was in the seventh grade, he went on vacation to Orlando, Florida, with his parents. They drove past the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. The complex hosts several important Amateur Athletic Union basketball games.

Wright, who is a rising junior at Greene County High School, recently recalled that trip and the statement he made to his parents back then.

“I said, 'I'm going to play there one day,’” Wright said. “I knew that's where they hosted the championships for AAU. They told me, 'If that's what you really put your mind to, then you can do it.'”

Wright, who is more commonly known as “D.J.,” had already been involved in AAU action about a year before taking that trip.

During Wright’s sixth grade summer, he was contacted by Derrick Williams. Williams has deep ties to the Lake Country area – he attended Morgan County schools and later graduated from Putnam, where his dad served as the athletic director and his uncle is the War Eagle’s head coach.

Back then, Williams ran the Lake Area Hoops AAU team. He reached out to Wright and a few of his classmates, as well as other talented players throughout the area, to form his squad.

“My first impressions of D.J. were he was fast and a very good ball handler,” Williams said. “And, at that time, I could tell, even with him being young, he had poise about himself that you don't really see from a lot of sixth- and seventh-graders. I kind of knew in the back of my head that once he got older and if he kept working, he could be a pretty special player.”

Williams initially contacted Wright because his team had a tournament scheduled near the end of the season but, because of vacations and other reasons, they needed extra players. Wright stepped in and helped.

After the first game, Williams realized there was something special about Wright. The next year, Wright and A.J. Brown, who is currently a Morgan County High School student, had a strong dynamic on the Lake Area team.

“I knew then,” Williams said. “I was like, 'Oh yeah, [Wright’s] going to be good.' That next year, the first full year of him playing AAU with me, I know he'd had a pretty good middle school season and then he was pretty much our floor leader, him and A.J. Brown. If I needed a bucket, I'd go to D.J. and A.J.”

Wright had never before played AAU competition. He said the transition was made easier because of Williams’ teaching.

“[Williams] showed me how the competition level was going to be hard and how it was going to be different from middle school ball,” Wright said. “During the summer, everyone's trying to get better, everyone's trying to reach their goal, everyone's trying to make the rankings and all this and that. He prepared me very well for it. He's a great coach and I loved what he taught me and I'm very thankful.”

One big difference between AAU basketball and the middle school game, Wright said, was the fact he did not know many of his opponents.

AAU teams combine the best players throughout the state and many from out of state. Wright regularly played against kids from the metro Atlanta area and abroad.

There were physical factors for Wright to adjust to as well when he started playing in the travel league.

Wright currently stands at 5-foot-9. He was shorter during those days and, even then, had to contend with players who were 6 feet tall and some even taller.

It did not take long for Wright to realize the height disparity meant he needed to alter his style.

“In middle school, you had players who were tall but when I got to AAU, I was attacking it like it was middle school,” he said. “I'd go up and get my shot blocked. So, I was like, 'Wow, in middle school, this didn't happen.' I had to change how I was shooting my shot around the rim. I had to work on floating (the shots) because I need those. Derrick taught me you don't always have to go inside with the big boys. You can stop and hit a little jump shot before you get to the rim. I had to adjust to that quickly.”

Lake Area Hoops had Wright’s services for two summers. During his eighth-grade year at Carson Middle School, Wright played well and drew attention from one of the most notable AAU teams around.

Game Elite sent a scout to CMS’s game against Carver. Wright dropped 26 points that game, he recalled, and impressed the scout. Immediately after the game, the scout talked with Wright and his parents, Danny and Chandra Wright, about him joining the program.

“I remembered watching Game Elite on YouTube,” Wright said. “They had some of the big-time players. They had Jaylen Brown, Damon Wilson. When I heard that name, I was like, 'I definitely want to be a part of this program.' He asked to talk with my mom and dad and, after that, I went on to play with Game Elite.”

Wright was a member of Game Elite during his eighth-grade summer. That required him and his parents to drive to Atlanta twice a week for practices.

It also meant Wright had the opportunity to travel and play against top tier programs. As such, Wright and his team traveled across the southeast. He played games at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Louisiana and in Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

Wright said he wasn’t surprised to see his own prophecy come to fruition.

“I knew it was coming,” he said. “That was my goal: to play AAU and be involved on the different circuits.”

After finishing up with Game Elite, Wright went on to play with Club Orange. Now, under the direction of Jerrard Price, Wright is a member of the Team North Atlanta Celtics.

The 16-year-old Wright plays up to the 17-year-old team. He noted that he has always participated on the next-oldest team throughout his AAU career.

Earlier this summer, Wright received his first college offer two years before he’s scheduled to graduate from GCHS. Lamar Community College in Lamar, Colorado, made the scholarship offer after watching Wright work out at the Build Your Brand basketball training service, which is based in Greene County and run by Brandon Johnson.

In addition to the official offer from Lamar, Wright has also received contact from Georgia Southern, Georgia State, South Alabama, East Tennessee State, Florida Atlantic, Emmanuel College and the University of Rio Grande.

Wright credited Price for a lot of the interest he’s received. The other colleges reached out to Wright as a result of his work with Johnson right here at home.

“I work out with him every day,” Wright said. “He calls me his nephew, I call him my uncle. He has connections with college coaches so he's always telling college coaches about me.”

Williams said it is crucial for Wright to have the exposure he receives as a result of his AAU team and his work with Johnson, especially considering he plays in Class A-Public at GCHS, which is the smallest division in the GHSA.

“If you think about it, you're talking about a kid that plays at a single-A school so he doesn't necessarily get the exposure the 4-A and 5-A kids get but, just from working with Johnson, he's in the gym every day, and with his AAU team, he's getting a lot of exposure,” Williams said. “I think that will benefit him very well in the long run.”

Wright said he is humbled to know he has such strong interest from several collegiate programs two years out from graduation.

“Honestly, I'm blessed and thankful for everything,” he said. “I wake up every day and give God the honor and the glory. Without him, none of this is possible. I play through him. Everything that comes my way, it's all from him. I thank my parents for guiding me on the right path and getting me involved with AAU and allowing me to do these things.”

Although his on-court work is valuable and will go a long way toward getting Wright to the next level, he knows he also must take care of business in the classroom.

Wright said he is a straight-A student with about a 4.3 GPA. He takes any AP and advanced classes he can. He credited his parents for instilling in him the drive to excel in school.

The summer is nearly over and Wright will soon return to GCHS. In the fall, he’ll start working on his junior season with the Tigers. After it is over, he will transition to another new AAU team, the Athletes of Tomorrow, which will put him on the Nike circuit.

It would be easy to coast through the next two years knowing he has already has a scholarship offer in his back pocket. But that’s not what Wright intends to do.

“I want to be No. 1 in everything,” he said. “I work even harder in the classroom because I know, when the grades are there and the work is being done in the classroom and I work hard on the court, everything else will fall into place.”

 

 

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