Pacers 'lucky' to get Statesboro's Wright
Morris News Service
ATHENS - For Rashad Wright's old and new teams, the only shock from Thursday night's NBA draft was that Wright wasn't picked sooner.
''As I watched the draft evolve, I was more surprised with each pick,'' said Georgia coach Dennis Felton, who worked with Statesboro's Wright for his senior season. ''I was shocked at some of the people picked before he was.''
And Felton had plenty of time to be baffled. The Indiana Pacers picked the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Wright, the Bulldogs' career leader in assists (480) and the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year last season, at No. 59 - the last selection. There were 23 guards picked before Wright, three of them high schoolers and nine of them players who left college early.
''We were extraordinarily lucky to get him in this draft,'' Pacers player personnel director Mel Daniels said. ''The point guards he was against in workouts, he outplayed them. And for some, it wasn't even close.''
The Pacers, who drafted another Georgia guard, Vern Fleming, 20 years ago, thought enough of Wright to take him with their second of two picks. Indiana, which fell to eventual NBA champion Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals last season, chose Colorado center David Harrison with the 29th pick, the last of the first round.
''(Wright) understands the (point guard) position,'' Daniels said. ''He's a tenacious defender, he can score, he can run, he can handle and he can pass. He's got good size, unlike some of the point guards ahead of him. Again, I think we were very fortunate.''
Wright was perhaps the Bulldogs' steadiest player over his four years. He played in 82 percent of the 4,760 possible minutes during his career and is the only Georgia player to dish 100 or more assists in each of his three seasons.
His senior season was his worst when it came to giving offense away, but it was only because he had to shoulder more of a scoring role and answered the challenge by leading Georgia with 14.3 points per game. He still shared the team lead with 88 assists.
His style, however, is anything but flashy, which is something many critics thought would hurt him in a league that has grown increasingly fond of high-light reel dunks and passes.
''Rashad didn't take very long to catch my attention,'' Felton said. ''The very best, the Kobe Bryants of the world, their athleticism allows them to be flashy. But when you look at their game, the things they get done, there's nothing flashy about it. They understand the game the way it was meant to be played.
''Rashad is explosively quick, he's strong, an uncanny finisher in the half court and the transition. He showed for the first time this year that he could shoot the ball and score enough to be more than a floor general.''
Said Wright's coach at Statesboro High School, Lee Hill: "You know how Indiana plays defense. Rashad's a good defensive player and a true point guard. He's going to run the offense they want him to."
Wright will report to the Pacers' rookie/free agent camp in Indianapolis on July 12.
Ahead of him on the roster is third-year point guard Jamaal Tinsley, a player of similar size at 6-3, 195, who led the Pacers with 5.8 assists per game last season. There is also former Georgia Tech standout Kenny Anderson, Tinsley's backup, but he may land somewhere else by next season.
The Pacers hope Wright will work out as well as the last Bulldog they picked, who averaged 11.3 points per game over 12 seasons in Indiana, then worked as an assistant coach from 2000 to '03 as part of Isaiah Thomas' staff.
''Vern Fleming is one of the best,'' Daniels said. ''He's a great human being and basketball player at the same time. I'm just hoping Rashad has the same type of fire.''
Notes - Larry Bird, the Pacers' president, told The Associated Press that Wright was a: "Real nice pick for us. He's got a chance. He's got a real chance." Also, Pacers coach Rick Carlise told the AP: "We're looking for competitiveness. Rashad Wright has proven he's a high-level competitor and we're going to find out about (first-round pick David) Harrison."