Like Wright-Foreman today, Lillard starred at a mid-major school, Weber State University, during four years of college ball, nearly unheard of in today’s one-and-done, power conference climate.
Lillard had been under the radar for a while before elevating his stock enough to be selected sixth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, where the 6-foot-3 point guard is currently one of the best players in the world.
It only took Wright-Foreman three seasons to put together a season akin to Lillard’s fourth in college, where the Weber State alum posted 24.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor.
This year, the 6-foot-1 junior is torching defenses for 25 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 45.6 percent from the field while leading Hofstra fo a 14-10 record, 7-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Mysteriously, the Laurelton native isn’t on that national radar...yet.
“I’m definitely underrated with a lot of things,” Wright-Foreman told BQE Media last week. “But I’m not really paying attention to that, I just really want to win games and get to the tournament. Then people will start talking about me.”
The unnoticed prolific play isn’t unfamiliar territory. The former New York Rens AAU and High School for Construction standout remembers being “at the bottom of the barrel” in the recruiting process, and is driven by an identical hunger to prove people wrong three years later.
“I had a lot of local schools and I was kind of wondering why a lot of others weren’t following me,” said Wright-Foreman, whose first offer came from Hofstra, followed by LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis. “A lot of schools missed out on me, that’s just how I feel. I’m a very confident player, I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder.”
Hofstra head coach Joe Mihalich recalls being in awe of Wright-Foreman after watching him drop 50 points at an AAU game in Las Vegas.
“At the end of the first quarter he had 12, and I’m texting my assistants,” said Mihalich, who is now in his fifth year at Hofstra. “At halftime he had like 25, after the third quarter he had like 35, then he ended up with 50. I knew he was good, but to me that was the one.”
Mihalich said Wright-Foreman was always a great scorer, but he needed to improve on the rest of his game, which he has. The junior guard is currently top two on the team in assists, and according to his head coach, is more mature, poised and composed.
“He’s patient when he has to be without losing that edge that you need, and he wasn’t always like that,” said Mihalich. “He would get frustrated, he would get flustered, but only in a normal way, it wasn’t a problem thing.
“He’d get a little down on himself and it’s over now,” he added. “He’s the total package, he really is.”
Listing his mother, Janice Wright, and his grandfather, Jerrie Foreman, as his main mentors in life, Wright-Foreman also credits Hofstra legend and assistant coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton for his ascent.
Wright-Foreman said Claxton, who played eight NBA seasons from 2001-2009, winning a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, extensively worked with him last summer.
Having recorded 22.8 points and 6 assists per game as a senior, the 5-foot-11 Claxton, whose number 10 jersey is retired by Hofstra, made sense for Wright-Foreman.
“I knew him for so long and I knew of him, playing video games and stuff like that,” Wright-Foreman said with a chuckle. “I’m trying to get to where he’s been. To me, he’s been my biggest mentor along with my mom and grandpa.”
The mystery of Wright-Foreman’s “low-key” emergence has been unsolved, but coach Mihalich says it should end soon.
“He’s become somebody people should want to come to see,” he said. “There’s a lot of people missing this great show here. More people should be coming to our games and seeing what a great scorer we have.”
As for Wright-Foreman, his goals are titles and honors, and maybe then eyeballs will follow. One day, he may even line-up across the aforementioned Lillard.
“I knew I could put a lot of points on the board, but to be fourth in the country in scoring, I never saw that happening,” he said. “All I wanted to do is win games and go to the tournament. I know God gave me a gift and I’m just using it to the best of my abilities.”