RYAN Wright has come to the Joondalup City Wolves with a strong reputation of having played in many of the world’s best leagues but what has so far eluded him is a championship and he’s hoping that changes over the next seven days.
The big Canadian has put together an outstanding career all over the world that included playing at the famous UCLA in his college career and going to the NCAA championship game back in 2006 where they lost to a stacked Florida team.
A year later with him teammates with Russell Westbrook, UCLA was back to the Final Four and again it was Florida who eliminated them in the semi finals.
Wright has embarked on a successful professional basketball career since playing in the Ukraine, Mexico, Korea, Poland, Finland, the Europe Cup, Hungary and the Basketball Champions League so it has been quite the journey since college.
He has put some impressive numbers along the way highlighted by 15.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game in the 2014/15 season with Namika Lahti in Finland, but what has eluded him so far is that championship.
He has gone close and played some outstanding basketball along the way, but the 30-year-old Canadian desperately wants to add a ring to his collection and sees no reason why it can’t happen with the Wolves even though they need two wins against the Geraldton Buccaneers this weekend to join the Perth Redbacks in the Grand Final for 2017.
“When I was at UCLA we made the national championship and played against Florida, but that’s when they had Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer so we had no chance of beating them. They ended up smoking us by 20 points but that’s the closest I’ve ever been in my playing career,” Wright said.
“It would mean a lot because I know this club is like a family and I see a lot of the alumni coming back to watch the games and everything, so they take it very seriously when you can be part of getting a banner hanging up.
“That will be there forever so to be able to say I had a part of putting a banner up that means a lot to people, that would mean a lot to me. And I have never won a championship in my professional career so if I did it now, that would be my first one and that would make it mean that little bit more to me.”
Despite only arriving for the final 13 games of the season for the Wolves as a replacement for Richard Ross to provide that genuine inside presence the club was after, Wright has thrown himself full into the Wolfpack culture and become a popular figure instantly.
His numbers have been impressive too with him averaging 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in his 17 appearances made up of those last 13 of the regular season and then all three in the quarter finals against the Cockburn Cougars, and then Game 1’s semi-final loss in Geraldton last Saturday.
He has certainly enjoyed the experience and he isn’t surprised by that because coming to Australia was something he always wanted to try and experience having spent so much of his professional career in Europe.
“I wanted to experience something new and the Australia is one of those places that is so isolated from the rest of the world and it’s kind of tough to get to and earn a contract,” he said.
“I wanted to have a chance to expose myself to the Australian market and maybe see if I can catch the eye of some NBL teams. I have played in a lot of top leagues in Europe and the last season I was playing in the Basketball Champions League which is one of the highest competitions right now.
“I wanted to be able to bring my experience to Australia and to the SBL, and hopefully in turn help raise the level of the SBL and bring more exposure to it. Hopefully if that leads to another job somewhere along the road then that would be nothing but good as well.”
Highlighting the strong character that Wright possesses and despite the challenge that comes joining a new team in a new country mid-season presents, he hasn’t just focused on himself since joining the Wolfpack.
Wright has put himself right out there and made himself fully available to his teammates to help share his experiences from playing in the NCAA or at the top levels of Europe.
He takes his responsibility seriously to help his teammates improve and reach their potential just as much as he does to helping the Wolves win games on the basketball court and ultimately contend for the championship.
“A lot of the guys on this team, especially the younger guys, might not have that chance to talk to somebody who has played at a high level in Europe, the NCAA and all that type of stuff,” Wright said.
“The fact that I’m here in the gym every day working out and practicing, they get the chance to talk to me about my basketball career and how they might be able to get better.
“I don’t want to be here just playing, if I can do anything to help young players improve and achieve their goals then I would like to do that. I’m happy to do anything I can do help basketball in Australia.”
As for his impressions of basketball in the SBL, he has been impressed by the standard he has experienced and especially with the physicality which is something he thrives on.
“I would say the basketball here is definitely up and coming, and Australia is definitely a rising basketball country,” he said.
“I’m finding the fans are starting to get more into it and a couple of weeks ago we had over 800 fans and a packed house at our game so even at the SBL level the fans are really getting into it. One thing I have really been impressed with is the fan support and also with the guys.
“I like the league because it’s pretty physical and I’m a physical guy so I like the physical play. I know you Australians like playing Aussie footy so you bring that mentality to every sport and that fits my game, and I love it.”
While he had always thought about wanting to play in Australia one day, Wright can’t say he knew too much about the country before arriving. But he has enjoyed the lifestyle on top of the basketball more than he thought he even might have.
“I didn’t know much about Australia to be honest apart from the usual stereotypical things that everyone knows like the kangaroos and all that type of stuff,” Wright said.
“It has definitely surpassed my expectations and the people over here are great, and I would compare them a lot to Canadians where I’m from.
“We are kind of similar in terms of being very welcoming and it’s a very multicultural country and I’m very comfortable here. I’ve loved being here for the past few months.”
Wright is currently locked in a fascinating battle in the semi finals too against Buccs legend Mat Wundenberg. Wright has developed great respect for the Buccs skipper already in their three meetings in 2017 and knows he has to play well against him to have an impact this weekend.
“He’s a very experienced player and he’s one of those guys with his experience he is crafty. He kind of knows how to be in certain spots at the right time and to use his body and be physical,” he said.
“He’s a guy who you have to bring your thinking game against and your basketball IQ to play against him because he can affect the game just with his crafty plays. He is definitely a guy I have to stay ready for and do a great job against.”
Wright isn’t quite sure where his next destination is once this season is finished in the SBL but Europe would be a good bet. But longer term looking towards 2018, the new Wolfpack facilities at Arena Joondalup might help get him over the line to return to the Wolves for a full season.
“Right now I’m kind of still open for the next season and my agent is looking at a few options. I don’t have a contract signed at the moment but in the next couple of weeks I will probably know what’s next. But right now my full focus is on trying to finish here as strong as I can and hopefully bring these guys a championship,” Wright said.
“That may entice me to come back. I’ve heard some rumblings of what’s going to be in the new stadium and apparently they are going to put in a good rehab and fitness centre there with all the top of the range equipment. Being the athlete I am, I like that sort of stuff so it might make the chance of coming back that little bit more enticing but we’ll see.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia