Great Ones Do For Others

The consummate team player, Julian Wright's game has never been about "Me" or how many points he scores. He's all about winning and subscribes to former KU basketball coach Larry Brown's old motto: "Good ones do for themselves. Great ones do for others."

Julian Wright has always preferred that extra pass to an open teammate rather than settling for a jump shot. That’s the way he’s played the game his entire life on the playgrounds growing up in Chicago and at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, where he averaged 6. 0 assists and just 14. 0 points per game his senior season.

So when Wright exploded for 17 first-half points (career high at the time with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting) against then-No. 1 Florida on Nov. 25, and outscored, outplayed, outhustled, and just completely dominated the best frontcourt in the nation, well, the roughly 30 NBA scouts in Las Vegas like Memphis general manager Jerry West certainly couldn’t help but salivate over this future superstar.

He once broke the Florida press near midcourt and dribbled hard to the basket like a veteran NBA point guard before flying in the air for a vicious one-handed slam. He was a terror on the baseline with an assortment of breathtaking moves. Wright scored at will and threw down several thunder dunks. He also ran the floor as well as any big man in the land and made jaw-dropping passes that reminded scouts of Magic Johnson.

“Julian was as good as Julian has probably ever been in his life,” said KU coach Bill Self.

Wright, who also had 10 rebounds and three steals vs. Florida, was national Player of the Week and ESPN Magazine soon headed to Lawrence for a feature story on the Chicago native. However, while the super sophomore scored in double figures the next five of seven games, he was hardly spectacular. Wright had just four points (1-4 FG) vs. Toledo on Dec. 13, was a non-factor again two weeks later against Detroit with just five points, and committed eight turnovers in his last two games before the Rhode Island matchup last Saturday.

And then it happened.

Wright burst out with a new career high (23 points on 10 of 14 shooting) vs. Rhode Island, including 19 points in the second half. He dazzled the Allen Fieldhouse faithful with all the “Wright” stuff. He was aggressive the entire second half and looked for his shot. He ran the floor on a mission and soared to the hoop for dunks. Wright, the guy who has ever been known for his shooting, showed a sound mid-range game and swished jump shots. Late in the game, Wright caught the ball about 15 feet from the basket, pump faked a defender, took a hard right dribble, then spun to his left and drained a feathery jumper.

The humble Wright downplayed his performance after the game.

“I was just trying to run the floor,” he said. “I got a lot of buckets in transition. They shot the ball a lot from three, so that created some open court situations for me and I was fortunate to get some good passes from my teammates for easy baskets.”

Self was elated over Wright’s aggressive play in the second half.

“Julian was terrific,” Self said. “He did a great job of making shots and getting rebounds.”

Ironically, Wright’s career game came after coming off the bench for the first time this season. He was late for practice on Friday, and was told at Saturday morning shootaround that he would not be starting.

“Coach doesn’t like when people are not on time,” Wright said. “Still, I have to have the same mindset to play and be aggressive as usual. He (Self) said to keep a good attitude. It's not acceptable (being late), but I just got to go with it and not make excuses and keep playing and be a man about it.”

These words are spoken like a wise man way beyond his 19 years. Wright has been a model citizen, a true student athlete, and a great ambassador for the Kansas basketball program ever since arriving at KU last season. He accepted responsibility for his tardiness. He showed accountability. He proved he’s a strong man and ready to be a leader.

And so now with fellow sophomore Mario Chalmers stepping up his game recently (two straight 22-point games before recording 12 points, five assists, and five steals vs. Rhode Island) and sophomore forward Brandon Rush being more aggressive and knocking down shots (54. 5 percent field-goal shooting the last four games), Saturday night was Wright’s time to shine.

Self hopes Wright and his two sophomore running mates continue their aggressive play and lead KU in the new year.

“The sophomores should take ownership, because in all honesty, the sophomores are going to score the most points,” Self said. "They’re the most talented kids. Shady (freshman forward Darrell Arthur) is in a little bit of a funk right now. That’s pretty evident. He’ll come out of it. Those guys (sophomores) need to step up, and they have been stepping up. Not the level I want them to, but Mario the last two games has been fabulous. Julian was fabulous (vs. Rhode Island). Brandon’s been better since the Toledo game. They’ve all done their part, but I still think they can do a little more.”

And Wright knows he can do more, or maybe less when it comes to trying to make the spectacular pass.

“I just got to try and make the easy play,” said Wright, who had no turnovers vs. the Rams for just the second game this season. “Coach has been telling me, ‘Just try to keep the game simple,’ and that’s what I was able to do today.”

He made the easy play for his teammates. He did it for Self and the coaching staff. And above all, he played that way to give Kansas the best chance to win. So with this team player, Wright certainly didn't surprise anyone when he answered a reporter’s question after the game about not starting.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” he replied. “We’re a type of team, it’s not who starts, and it’s not even who finishes. Whenever our number is called, we have to put in the work that’s needed for us to win.”

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