Forward is a position of contradictions. Great big men require power and finesse, brawn and brains, flair and efficiency. The post is a place for yeomen whose often-uncelebrated work—crashing the boards, defending the rim, setting picks—is the linchpin of great basketball. The role is a natural fit for junior Keith Wright.
Wright, himself, is something of a mystery. The big man started playing basketball just his sophomore year at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Va.
“I wanted to play freshman year, but I couldn’t because I got a ‘C’ on my progress report,” he explains. “My mom said, ‘No basketball for your freshman year.’”
But the game came easily to Wright, who was averaging 20.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per contest by the time he was a senior at the Norfolk Collegiate School.
Since arriving at Cambridge, Wright has shown the ability to dominate the paint—not only against Ivy opponents, but also national powers.
Against Boston College last December, Wright went 9-of-14 from the field for 21 points as Harvard defeated the Eagles, 74-67, for the second straight year.
But the junior has also faced stretches of injury and disappointment. Mononucleosis sidelined Wright for four games his freshman year. Last February, inflammation in his Achilles tendon relegated him to the bench for five games and hampered him through the end of the season.
On the year, Wright averaged 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 21.4 minutes of action per game.
“I think the first step for any player to become a marquee player is consistency,” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker says. “The biggest thing is also staying healthy…If Keith can do that, he can certainly be a marquee post player for our team.”
Wright’s progression into an elite forward would be an enormous boon for a Harvard team looking to capture its first Ivy League championship. The junior stands at the center of the Crimson’s two greatest question marks: experience and frontcourt depth. Wright is the co-captain, along with junior guard Oliver McNally, of a team without any seniors.
He and sophomore Kyle Casey, who will miss the beginning of the season with a broken foot, are the only forwards with more than 15 games of experience.
“We have a little more work this year because we’re younger, and we don’t have one of the best players in the league in [Jeremy Lin ’10],” McNally says. “But we have a lot of guys that are going to step in and hopefully become some of those dominant-type players.”
Wright has been working tirelessly to this end since he arrived on campus as a 6’8”, 245-pound freshman.
“This guy on Twitter posted about how [Wright] came into the Ivy League, saying he was an overweight big man with terrible hands,” recalls junior forward Andrew Van Nest. “Now you look at him, and he’s dropped like 25, 20 pounds. He’s an animal.”
This transformation has been the focal point of Wright’s preparation for the coming year, as he strives to stay on the court for a full season.