As Wright’s effort level continued to ebb and flow, he came to Pastner’s office to understand what he could do to get more minutes. Pastner used an illustration playing on Wright’s aspiration to be a chef.
“I said, ‘If you were running a restaurant and your employees didn’t have a tremendous motor all the time, you’d be frustrated at your employees,’” Pastner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s how you’ve got to look at it. I want your motor running at all times.’”
When Tech played at home against Florida State on Feb. 16, Pastner put Wright into the starting lineup for the first time in seven games. Lacking sufficient energy, however, Wright played seven minutes.
“I’d say when coach (Pastner) wasn’t playing me before, I was like, something has to change,” Wright said. “So I started to change my energy and I saw better results.”
In the next game, he had seven points, seven rebounds and a career-high four blocks against Pittsburgh. In the following game at Miami, he tied his career high with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting. At No. 2 Virginia last Wednesday, he had six points with seven rebounds and, notably, dove to the floor for a loose ball in the final minutes of a blowout loss.
“You know me – that’s important to me,” Pastner said.
Against Boston College on Sunday, he had 10 points with four rebounds. He crashed the offensive glass for put-backs, scoring once at the basket with his left (opposite) hand and his body angled awkwardly, a show of the skills he has developed. His length (beyond standing 6-9, he has a 6-11 wingspan) and athleticism are being better put to use.
“I think it’s starting to sink in with him,” Pastner said.
Pastner gave credit to assistant coach Anthony Wilkins, who works the most with Wright. His shot selection and scoring touch both seem to be improving. Pastner said that he sees Wright’s progress most clearly in practice, where there are days when he’s the best player on the floor.
“Coach Pastner always told me I’m at my best when I have a whole bunch of energy,” Wright said. “He was right.”
There’s a lot of room for growth. His ballhandling can improve, as can his range. Guard Jose Alvarado said that he’s going to tell him after the season ends to work on his jump shot. He also turns the ball over too frequently.
“He’s going to come back (next season) and be a real big problem for (opponents) and help us in every way he can,” Alvarado said.
Looking ahead to next season, if Wright could advance even slightly on the numbers he has put up in the past four games – 10.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 50 percent shooting in 25.8 minutes – it would be a significant lift for Pastner and the Jackets, particularly from a player who didn’t have a ranking from the major recruiting databases at the time of his commitment to Tech. Wright’s progress could be a victory in a season that has not been gangbusters from a win-loss standpoint.
Tech could use Wright at his peak against the Wolfpack. The Jackets have lost seven consecutive road games and N.C. State is playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Against the team from his hometown, Wright shouldn’t have trouble finding motivation to ignite the motor.
“I feel like there’s always doubters, but you always have to prove them wrong,” he said.