GREENBURGH, NY, June 20, 2005 -- "This was fun," Indiana junior Bracey Wright flashes a tired semi-smile after his workout for team brass at the Madison Square Garden Training Center. "We went up and down pretty good with three guards. And in the end, we did a lot of shooting." At the mere mention of The Word -- "shooting", that is -- Wright lights up like a 6-3 Christmas Tree, fatigue suddenly foreign to his existence. The man can shoot. The man loves to shoot. The Man is The Man because he's about as pure a shooter as the college game has seen in several eons.
Which is why he's often been called the "Allan Houston of College Basketball". Which is why he's been so proud to be called that. "Allan's a GREAT shooter," says Wright. "I've learned so much from watching his technique, his form. So, yes, I'm excited about the comparison. Still, truth be told, once I adjust to the league, I think I could turn out to be even better ON the ball." A better defender? "Yes, but not just," the supremely confident Wright asserts. "I had the ball about half the time in my hand at Indiana; I think when Stephon (Marbury) or Jamal (Crawford) move off the ball, I could run a team. I think I'm a true combo guard. And I'm the kind of player who'll do a lot of damage without the ball in his hand as well, doing all the little off the ball things, exploiting the other team's weaknesses, and making the right decisions."
"I follow the NBA -- and, in particular, I follow the Knicks," says Wright. "If the team feels that Allan can't return from his injuries, I'd fit the New York like a glove." Interestingly, Wright -- struggling through injuries for years in another Houston commonality -- fell from the surefire lottery spot that was his two years ago to "somewhere in the first round," he says. Usually that means the end of the first round - and the Knicks own the 30th pick.
"Last season was the first time in two years that I felt completely healthy," he says. It showed: surrounded by much turmoil and little talent, Wright still had a big year, leading the Big Ten in scoring and tallying 25 or more points on seven different occasions.
Bracey also owns an essential knack for picking the Wright time for his biggest games: 32 points on 9-14 shooting vs. Elite Eight participant Michigan State; a career high six treys while gunning for 31 against killer Kentucky; 30 big ones on defensively devastating Wisconsin; 28 (plus 6 rebounds) versus defending champ UConn.
"My team needed me to lead," he says. "So I led. Just like Isiah." Knicks President, Basketball Operations Thomas, of course, played for the same college team. "He came back to school a couple of times and we did get a chance to talk," says Wright. "It would be an honor playing for him. I could learn so much."
Robert Rothbart is only 19 years old yet stands 7'2'' tall.
Learning is good but, according to one of the all-time classic basketball truisms, "you can't teach height". Nineteen year-old (just last Thursday) Robert Rothbart may have a lot to learn about hoops -- but he is 7-2. Hence, the draft.
"I was actually in the draft a year ago but I withdrew," he says. "Still, I chose to go professional because I felt the French team (Paris Basket Racing) could teach me a lot more about basketball than a college (he originally signed with Indiana)." Unfortunately, Rothbart got hurt and barely played. Now he's in the draft, ready or not.
Actually, after "the Bosnian shooting war started right in front of my building," Rothbart is ready for anything. "That's why we left," he recalls, still shuddering from the memory. His family moved to Israel for two years, then to Northern California where Robert pretty much dominated the middle in high school (21 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks per game as a senior). "I'm 7-2, pretty quick and athletic, and can shoot with trey range," he says. "Sure, I need to play better defense and get stronger. Which is actually the same thing."
"But, whatever happens, I'll just take things one step at a time."
Don't tell that to Bracey. "Hey, I've played with Patrick Junior so I know what Big Patrick (Ewing) is all about," he says. "I know what the Knicks are about. I was weaned on Knicks-Pacers. What battles! New York sports are everything to everybody. As far as I'm concerned, Madison Square Garden is the place to be -- and I want to be there."