The Wright Stuff

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia's most valuable player may not be one of two players on the team who rank among the SEC's top five scoring leaders, Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams.

The biggest key to the 19th-ranked Bulldogs' success may not be Steve Thomas, who is the team's tallest player and rebounding leader. The player the team could least afford to lose also may not be versatile forward Chris Daniels, the defensive stopper.

When the Bulldogs are on the floor, point guard Rashad Wright's contributions may be most obvious in the few minutes each game he is given a rest.

This has been the constant in the junior's three seasons: When Wright is not in the game, the offense tends to struggle.

"We're not nearly the club with him off the floor as with him on the floor,'' said Coach Jim Harrick Tuesday as the Bulldogs (10-4 overall, 2-1 Southeastern  Conference) practiced for tomorrow night's home game against Tennessee (9-4, 2-2).

Wright is the team's only true point point.

The hope had been that versatile sixth man Damien Wilkins would keep the offense moving when he filled in for Wright. The 6-foot-7 Wilkins provides matchup problems when posting up against other team's point guards, but Wilkins can not match the solid floor leadership provided by Wright.  

Asked if Wright is the player Georgia could least afford to lose, Williams quickly said "Definitely.''  

Said Williams, who led Georgia with 19 points in Saturday's 81-64 win at Arkansas: "Rashad is a great floor general. To be a great team, we need him. Teams that have won championships have had a great point guard.''  

Including only conference games, Wright leads the league with 6.0 assists per game. Including all games, he ranks second in the league in assists (5.71) and assists-to-turnover ratio (3.48).  

With Hayes (18.2 points per game) and Williams (17.1) leading the scoring, and Daniels, Thomas and Wilkins also capable of double figures in any game, Wright's scoring is rarely a factor. Even so, he has proved capable of joining Hayes, Williams and others in the 3-point attack, and he also can score on drives to the basket.  

"Scoring is something I want to do,'' Wright said Tuesday. "As a point guard, I want to get other players the  ball, and we've got good shooters, but that is something I can do as well.''  

Wright's scoring average climbed from 4.7 points per game as a freshman to 9.1 last season, thanks in large part to his dramatic improvement in free-throw shooting.  

Wright has a chance to finish his career as the most prolific passer in Georgia history. He already ranks 10th on the school's list of career leaders in assists with 334, including seven (with no turnovers) in the win at Arkansas.  

Litterial Green set the Georgia record with 466 assists in his four-year career (1989-92).  Wright already has 80 assists this year, but he's not ready to call himself the most indispensable player on the roster.  

"I'm like a piece to the puzzle,'' said Wright, a 6-foot-3 native of Statesboro, Ga. "If I'm missing, the team might not do as well, but if somebody else is missing, the team might not do as well.''  

Thanks to Wright, Georgia leads the nation with 19.6 assists per game and leads the SEC in assists to turnover ratio. The Bulldogs also lead the SEC in scoring.  

Meanwhile, Wright's playing time has not dropped much despite the addition of Wilkins to the playing rotation.  

Last year, there was concern that Wright would wear down as he averaged 32.7 minutes per game; this year he is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.  

Admitted Wright: "It's tough, but the team may lose a little edge when I come out.''  

Added Williams: "He has improved on everything since he has been here, but from day one he has been a floor general for us.''

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