As the end of the 2006-2007 season neared, it appeared sophomore Julian Wright would be back for his junior season. Why? Well, because that’s what he told everyone all along. Even in the locker room after a tough loss to UCLA in the Elite 8, the long, lanky, 6-8 forward they affectionately call “Ju Ju”, said he’d be back in Lawrence, no doubt about it.
But in this day and age, nothing is a sure thing. Players often speak from the heart after tough losses like the one KU was dealt back in March, but eventually the head takes over.
Believe me, when Julian said a return to the crimson and blue was imminent – he meant it. The first-team All Conference selection loves Kansas. But things change. Once Wright found out he was a likely lottery pick it was time to weigh his options. He was left with only one. KU coach Bill Self did the investigating and knew after hearing the high praise heaped on Wright by NBA personnel, the Chicago Heights native would likely not be in the lineup next season.
Once Julian made his decision public on Monday, April 9th it was time for both parties to move forward.
For Julian, it meant working out and getting his body NBA-ready. For Self, it was about figuring out how to fill the void left by Wright.
Though the Kansas head coach left most of the advising to Wright’s agent, Rob Pelinka, he did share some words of wisdom with Wright before embarking on his journey to the next level.
“I’ve shared with him what I thought, and how important it was that he be in the best physical condition of his life. (I also told him) he should certainly go at this as hard as he can and basically and not take things for granted -- I think he’s been doing that based on what I’ve heard,” said Self.
Self has kept tabs on Wright through his agent and his mother, but has not spoken to Julian on a regular basis, instead leaving his third-leading scorer to focus on his workouts.
Wright entertained the Minnesota Timberwolves (7th pick), the Boston Celtics (5th pick), the Milwaukee Bucks (6th pick), and the Charlotte Bobcats (8th pick), but has not been at 100 percent for all his workouts.
“He hasn’t worked out for a ton of teams and he’s been nicked up with some little different things, but I do think that he’s right where he wants to be going into the final week,” said Self on Friday. “I may be off but I know he worked out for the Timberwolves and worked out for the Celtics, but he tweaked his ankle. So he really didn’t have a (full) workout for the Celtics and he’s been off since then trying to get his ankle back to 100 percent before he works out here for these last few teams.”
Wright, according to some, was laboring during his workout with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phog.net spoke to Self prior to Julian’s workout with the Charlotte Bobcats. But according to ESPN College Basketball Analyst and Draft Expert, Jay Bilas, the ankle won’t likely deter anyone from choosing Wright.
“I doubt it. Maybe for teams that didn’t do their homework or are a little bit skittish about him in the first place. They could use that. But I hardly think a guy twists his ankle and it would keep you from drafting him if you think he’s really good,” concluded Bilas.
So it appears regardless of the ankle issue, Wright will hear his name called very early on Thursday night.
“I think he’s a top ten talent,” said Bilas.
But what do the other experts think?
NBAdraft.net projects Wright as the 9th pick going to Chicago. On ESPN.com Chad Ford has the Chicago native going to the Los Angeles Clippers with the 14th and final pick of the lottery. Earlier during the process Wright was projected to go slightly higher. So is his stock dropping with some NBA teams?
“I see projections that he’s fallen a little bit, I don’t particularly believe that,” said Bilas who spoke to Phog.net from New York City. “I don’t know exactly where he’s going to go but he’s certainly a top ten talent.”