When Tech beat Wake Forest on March 5 in its final regular-season game, a victory that Pastner told the team would remove all doubt of its place in the tournament, Wright confessed that he didn’t think it would actually happen.
Pastner announced Tuesday that a member of the team’s travel party had tested positive but did not reveal the person’s identity or role with the team, although there were indications that it was a player. He also said that the person was in isolation and asymptomatic.
“Nothing’s more important than your health, and thank the good Lord right now that the individual is asymptomatic, and we just want him to remain that way,” Pastner said. “But it’s a gut punch. It stinks.”
He did add that the person would be eligible to return to the group if he remained asymptomatic after Sunday and could play in the Jackets’ Sweet 16 game, if Tech makes it that far.
If eighth-seeded Tech were to defeat ninth-seeded Loyola on Friday, the Jackets would advance to play the winner of the Illinois-Drexel game, a 1 vs. 16 matchup, on Sunday.
A team that has benefited from its tight bond and unwillingness to give in likely won’t capitulate against the Ramblers on Friday, even without Wright. According to a team spokesman, the Jackets had a spirited practice Wednesday at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the revered arena where they will play on Friday.
Wright was named ACC player of the year after averaging 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 blocks in the regular season. It was a stunning achievement in light of his start in college after he was barely recruited by Division I schools out of high school in Raleigh, N.C.
“It’s like, night and day, honestly, coming this far and getting ACC player of the year,” Wright said. “I don’t know how many people can actually say that. They didn’t play their freshman year, barely played sophomore year, then senior year, named ACC player of the year and first-team, defensive team and all that. This is an amazing feeling. I feel like I accomplished so much and there’s just so much more out there for me to accomplish, too.”
Tech will likely turn to center Rodney Howard to replace Wright in the starting lineup. Howard, a sophomore, has seen his role grow over the course of the season. He played 49 minutes in the first 12 games, including five games in which he didn’t play at all. He has played 88 in the final 13, appearing in all but two of the games.
He has mostly contributed defense and rebounding, scoring 16 points and clearing 11 rebounds in those 88 minutes.