SEATTLE — It is becoming a painful matter of routine.
McKinley Wright staggers off the court for the Colorado men's basketball team, grimacing while favoring his left arm. He disappears into the tunnel for a few minutes, returns to the bench and inevitably returns to the action for the Buffaloes without displaying any physical limitations.
I admit the sophomore point guard fooled me somewhat during Wednesday night's loss at Washington State. When Wright momentarily left the fray against the Cougars, bent over and holding his left wrist, it seemed as if Wright had incurred an entirely new injury.
Wright set the record straight afterward.
"It was my shoulder, man," Wright said. "It was my shoulder."
Regardless of how the Buffs' season plays out the rest of the way — they remain in the race for one of the top four spots in the Pac-12 and the accompanying first-round bye at the league tournament, despite Wednesday's loss and a date late Saturday night at first-place Washington — a tip of the cap must be offered toward Wright, whose selflessness and determination to play through a painful injury should be a source of pride to all Buffs fans.
Wright's issues with his left shoulder have been well-chronicled. In the Buffs' first practice after reconvening following the holidays, he suffered a torn labrum while diving for a loose ball. CU traveled to Arizona that week with head coach Tad Boyle assuming Wright would be sidelined. Instead he averaged 14.5 points in the Buffs' losses against Arizona and Arizona State.
After returning home to defeat Washington State on Jan. 10, matters took a bleak turn two days later in the Buffs' first matchup against Washington. With 8 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half, Wright got tangled up while battling for a rebound and felt his shoulder joint pop out of place. He missed the remainder of that game as well as the Buffs' next date, a loss at Utah.
Despite a shoulder that still occasionally sends him to the sideline and will require offseason surgery, Wright has been even more efficient in the nine games since that one-game absence. Going into Saturday's UW date, Wright had shot .539 overall (.521 for the season) during that nine-game span and .407 from 3-point range (.313 for the season). Going into Saturday's UW game he was averaging 13.5 points on the season, but 14.7 points in the nine games following his absence at Utah.
While Wright's assists-per-game average has dipped slightly (4.6 per game over the past nine contests against 5.0 for the season), his assist-to-turnover rate has improved dramatically. Before his one-game absence Wright's assist-to-turnover rate was 1.56. It's 1.91 in the nine games since.
That Wright not only has refused to shut it down for the season, and actually has played more efficiently while injured, deserves a high level of props. Wright almost certainly has a professional career awaiting him down the road, whether it's in the NBA or overseas, and the fact he is so willing to put his body on the line for the sake of the black-and-gold is a Herculean achievement. With the exploding Nike and the knee injury it caused this week for Duke star Zion Williamson renewing a national debate regarding the merits of future pros putting their bodies on the line at the collegiate level, Wright's sacrifice and unflinching dedication to his team is even more commendable.
Granted, Wright won't be the top overall pick in the NBA draft as Williamson likely will be this summer. Yet he risks going down for the remainder of the season with every minute he's on the floor, and still he pushes through with the hope of leading the Buffs to one of those top four spots in the Pac-12. And if they get there, despite their own inconsistencies throughout the 2018-19 season, the Buffs and their depleted rotation still has as good a chance as any team of getting hot at the right time for three games in Las Vegas.
By then, Wright's shoulder might only be hanging on by a thread. But no doubt he still will be running the show for the Buffs, even if he must do so one-handed.