Jerrell Wright

Commencement speech an important honor for La Salle’s Jerrell Wright

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The spring can be an anxious time for college basketball seniors approaching graduation, as the need to finish strong academically combines with workouts geared towards lining up a job in professional basketball. That’s what awaited La Salle forward Jerrell Wright at the conclusion of his senior season, but there was something else on the Philadelphia native’s plate.

That additional responsibility was a special one however, as he was selected by his high school alma mater (Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia) to give the school’s commencement speech June 16. The opportunity arose when Rich Yankovich, who was the head basketball coach at Dobbins for 34 years, reached out to a former player who’s now an assistant at La Salle.

“One of the old coaches at Dobbins, Coach Yank, contacted coach [Horace] Owens and recommended that I speak at Dobbins’ graduation,” Wright told NBC Sports earlier this week when asked about how he landed this opportunity.

While Wright was certainly productive on the court for the Explorers, averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and earning second team All-Big 5 honors, just as important was what he was able to do as a leader and in the classroom. Wright recently graduated with a degree in sociology, and throughout his time at La Salle the Philadelphia native made strides both on and off the court.

source:
La Salle University Athletics

“The way he grew was in confidence, especially socially and academically,” Dr. Giannini noted when asked about Wright’s development. “There are some really good students coming out of Philadelphia public schools, but there are others who are underprepared and college can be a big adjustment. I think it was an adjustment for Jerrell, but in his first year he won our program’s most dedicated student award.”

Wright’s commitment to doing well academically began even before he set foot on the La Salle campus, as before his senior year of high school he did something that few basketball players with Division I ambitions would be willing to do.

“The other really neat thing about Jerrell is that he chose not to play AAU going into his senior year,” Dr. Giannini said. “He had already committed to La Salle, and he chose not to play to focus on his academics to make sure he would be eligible as a freshman. How many kids are not making that decision and wind up not being eligible? He was making good decisions even before he got to La Salle, and he continued to work hard.”

Given his path to a college degree, which opens up doors outside of a possible career in professional basketball, Wright’s a good choice to address young people sitting in a position similar to his. And this won’t be the first speech that Wright’s given at his alma mater either.

Last summer Wright’s jersey was retired, a high honor at any school but especially at one that has produced some of the talent attended Dobbins Tech. Among those who played at the school are the aforementioned Owens, the late Hank Gathers, his close friend and Loyola Marymount teammate Bo Kimble, current South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, and former La Salle guard Doug Overton (just to name a few).

But the nature of this particular speech, one in which his achievements including basketball are the reason for his selection, makes it special in a different way for Wright.

“It’s an honor for them to bring me back, knowing how many people have graduated from Dobbins who have been successful in life,” Wright said. “I would like to thank them for allowing me to come back and speak. I’m proud that out of all the people they could have picked, they picked me to come back and give the commencement speech.”

Wright will be the second person with a connection to the La Salle program to give a commencement speech this spring. Dr. Giannini returned to his alma mater, Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, to give the keynote speech at that school’s graduation in late-May. And the coach has been one of the people who have assisted Wright as he goes through the process of planning a speech that’s different than the one he gave last year.

“It’s been tough because this speech isn’t based [solely] on basketball, but on graduation overall,” Wright said when asked how the process was going, noting that he was nearly finished with the speech. “It’s been tough, but I’ve had the help of Coach G and my academic advisor Christine [Cahill] and we got through it.”source: Getty Images

People from many walks of life give commencement speeches, from the internationally famous to those whose greatest impact is felt within their own community. For some students, the words they most identify with come from those who have lived the experiences they’re going through themselves. And regardless of what he managed to do on the basketball court, Wright’s growth in other areas are what make him a quality influence for the youth of his neighborhood, and why he was chosen to speak at his high school alma mater.

“When you hear a message from one of your own who just a few years ago was in your position, a person who really had to work to get to where he is, the kids immediately recognize that,” Dr. Giannini said of Wright. “‘This guy had to work hard like me, and now he’s got a college degree, is on the verge of playing professional basketball and will get a good job whenever basketball’s over with.’

“I think the phrase “role model” is used a lot by adults and kids think it’s a little bit corny, but I really think they do look to Jerrell as a role model.”

High-scoring transfer guard leading the way offensively for La Salle

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With two of their top scorers from last season’s team in Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland having moved on, La Salle entered the 2014-15 season needing perimeter scoring options to emerge in advance of Atlantic 10 play. And while their 7-5 start (including losses to Virginia, Villanova and Temple) isn’t what Dr. John Giannini and his players were hoping for, the Explorers have won their last two games with Auburn transfer guard Jordan Price serving as the catalyst.

Price, who averaged 5.4 points in just under 15 minutes per game as a freshman at Auburn in 2012-13, is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 guard from Georgia has reached double figures in ten of La Salle’s 12 games, including his current run of 26 points or more in three consecutive games. During this stretch Price has shot 54.3% from the field, averaging 28.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.

In a story written by Dave Zeitlin of CSNPhilly.com, Price discussed both the need to get out of his comfort zone and how smooth the process of adjusting to the La Salle program has gone.

“I had been home all my life,” he said. “In order for me to grow as a person, as a player, I needed to get away. When I was at Auburn, it was a two-hour drive home and I was going home every weekend. Here, I can’t go home.”

Besides, Philadelphia has started to feel like home for him — well, a new home anyway. That’s one reason he’s off to such a flying start in his debut season for La Salle and has the Explorers thinking big in 2014-15. He’s never felt more comfortable on the basketball court.

“The coaches feel like father figures to me, and it felt that way when I first came to visit,” he said. “And the players are like brothers. It’s basically a home away from home. When you have that feeling, you don’t need to go anywhere else.”

Price is one of two double-digit scorers for La Salle with their final non-conference game scheduled for Tuesday against Big 5 rival Penn, with forward Jerrell Wright (11.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) being the other. While Price will be asked to do continue to produce offensively, he’s going to need help if the Explorers are to factor into what should be a competitive conference race.

Preseason favorite VCU and George Washington, which won the Diamond Head Classic this week, have posted some solid non-conference results and Dayton should remain formidable despite the loss of their two biggest players to off-court issues. The hope for La Salle is that with Price leading the way, they can become a more consistent team offensively and work their way in the mix.

2014-2015 Season Preview: Treveon Graham, VCU enter as favorites in the Atlantic 10

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be breaking down the Atlantic 10.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The Atlantic 10, the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball, is out to gain the respect yet again in 2014-15. The A-10’s 2013-14 season ended on a positive note, as Dayton, a team that began conference play with a 1-5 record, reached the Elite 8. This year, the league will look to build on that run, although outside of VCU, a top 20 team, there is not much clarity when it comes to the conference’s power structure.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Davidson
Out: None

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Archie Miller stayed: After guiding Dayton an Elite 8 run in March, Miller had a couple of options for leaving the Flyers for a high-major job. He decided to sign an extension at Dayton through 2019. It speaks to the strength of the league when hot coaching commodities like Miller and Shaka Smart continue to spurn Power 5 schools.

2. Rhode Island on the rise: Danny Hurley is in his third season at Rhode Island, and his rebuilding effort has been a major storyline in the A-10. Is this team, led by all-conference guard E.C. Matthews, ready to make the jump this season, or are the Rams still “one year away”?

3. George Washington: In 2013, the A-10 preseason poll predicted a 10th-place finish for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. After a surprise season, Lonergan has a quartet of juniors — Patricio Garino, Kethan Savage, Joe McDonald and Kevin Larsen — ready to handle preseason hype, as George Washington looks for a second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

4. RPI and non-conference: Last season, eight teams were listed in the RPI top 100, the same number of teams in kenpom.com’s 2014 ratings (with two more just on the outside). The league also boasted non-conference wins over the Virginia, Gonzaga and Creighton last season.

5. Games on NBC Sports Network: There will be 25 Atlantic 10 games broadcasted on the NBC Sports Network. Full schedule is here.

source:
AP

PRESEASON ATLANTIC 10 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Treveon Graham, VCU

The 6-foot-6 Graham should end up going from an under-recruited forward to a conference player of the year with four NCAA tournament appearances. Graham, who averaged 15.8 points 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game as a junior, is a tough matchup for opposing defenses with his physical brand of basketball. Graham wasted little time preparing for his final season in Richmond as he spent the summer at the LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul elite camps.

THE REST OF THE ATLANTIC 10 FIRST TEAM:

  • Kendall Anthony, Richmond: The diminutive lead guard averaged 15.9 points per game, shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.
  • DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: The co-Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year will be the key for the Hawks this season after they lost three of their top four scorers.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The 6-foot-5 guard has generated a lot of buzz for himself this summer after a freshman season that ended with sharing A-10 rookie honors with Bembry. Matthews scored 20 or more nine times after January.
  • Briante Weber, VCU: The defensive catalyst for Havoc recorded 3.5 steals a night for VCU, and could potentially break the Division I record for steals this season.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Patricio Garino, George Washington
  • Cady Lalanne, UMass
  • Kethan Savage, George Washington
  • Jordan Sibert, Dayton
  • Jerrell Wright, La Salle

BREAKOUT STAR: Jordan Price, La Salle

Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland both exhausted their eligibility, and they combined to averaged almost 28 points. Dr. John Giannini will look to yet another transfer to anchor the Explorers’ perimeter. Jordan Price, an Auburn transfer, was ranked No. 79 overall recruit by Rivals in 2012. In his lone season with the Tigers, he averaged 5.4 points per game, shooting 39 percent from three.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Pecora, Fordham

Tom Pecora holds a 34-85 record as he enters his fifth season at Fordham. Since the 2010-2011 season, the Rams have followed this pattern: seven wins, 10 wins, seven wins, 10 wins, and have finished last three of four years. Fordham will be a young team with nine freshmen and sophomores, compared to six upperclassmen.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : “How many bids will the Atlantic 10 get?”

It’s becoming the annual theme for the Atlantic 10 on Selection Sunday. Five in 2012, six in 2013, but how many this upcoming season? I’d set the line at -4.5, and I would probably take the over. Look at a team like UMass. The Minutemen will play a handful of tournament-caliber teams in the non-conference (LSU, Providence, BYU, Harvard all on the road), so even if they do stumble in the conference play again this season, they have the chance to pick of several quality out of conference wins.

Just look at other teams last season. Dayton defeated Gonzaga in Maui and George Washington knocked off Creighton in December.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : Conference play

Atlantic 10 conference play always seems to be unpredictable. For example, GW was picked to finish 10th in 2013-2014 befor earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season should be no different. Some of the better teams still have their questions while other programs appear to be on the rise. No better way to cap of league play than with a four-day stay in Brooklyn.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 24, VCU vs. Villanova (at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn)
  • Nov. 26, Richmond at N.C. State
  • Dec. 6, VCU vs. Virginia
  • Dec. 7, UMass vs. Florida Gulf Coast
  • Dec. 10, Rhode Island at Providence

*Dayton could end up playing UConn on Nov. 21

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CDiSano44

PREDICTED FINISH

1. VCU: A top-15 team heading into the preseason, and with Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, Shaka Smart should be poised to win his first regular season conference title.
2. George Washington: The core of juniors George Washington returns will have to offset the lost production from Mo Creek and Isaiah Armwood. The Coloinals should be able to weather the storm with a healthy Kethan Savage, and a tough defense that forced the third most steals per game last season in the Atlantic 10.
3. Dayton: The Flyers have plenty of returnees from a deep Elite 8 team, but the loss of Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford will hurt.
4. Rhode Island: This is the team to watch this season, because sooner or later the Rams will be near the top of the conference standings.
5. UMass: The Minutemen return our key players and adds West Virginia transfer Jabarie Hinds. Depth will be a concern.
6. Richmond: Chris Mooney dealt with personnel issues late last season, but Richmond has the pieces to be on the right side of the bubble come March.
7. La Salle: The Explorers will have good size on the frontline with 6-foot-11 Steve Zack and the league’s top rebounder Jerrell Wright.
8. Saint Joseph’s: The reigning A-10 Tournament champion lost Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic, though, DeAndre Bembry is worth watching.
9. Duquesne: A junior-heavy roster, led by sharpshooter Micah Mason and guard Derrick Colter. Dukes should
10. Saint Louis: It’ll be a rebuilding year for Jim Crews after losing Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett. Billikens shouldn’t be here long.
11. St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies will likely take a step back after an A-10 Tournament run. Youssou Ndoye, a 7-foot senior, is worth keeping an eye on.
12. Fordham: A young team that will rely on better shot selection from sophomore Jon Severe (17.3 ppg). Eric Paschall could be A-10 Rookie of the Year.
13. Davidson: The Cougars will had their growing pains in their first season in the new conference. Bob McKillop will change that quickly.
14. George Mason: First year as A-10 members didn’t go so well for the Patriots, who need to be better on the road in 2014-2015.