There are plenty of reasons why Colorado basketball fans are crossing their fingers that at least some fans might be allowed at games once the calendar turns to 2021.
Above all else coach Tad Boyle’s program, which opened preseason practice on Wednesday, is focused on eventually landing the NCAA Tournament bid that was denied the Buffaloes when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the 2020 tournament. Yet come January, when the Pac-12 said it might reassess the no-fan policy in place through at least the end of December, there won’t be too many more opportunities to watch McKinley Wright IV play at the CU Events Center.
Declaring the 2020-21 season his “last ride,” Wright and the Buffs went through the first practice of the dawn of the pandemic era of college basketball. The senior point guard will end his CU career with a case for being the top four-year player in program history, and he begins that last ride with an eye on a destination that was snatched from the Buffs in March.
“Obviously the ending we had in Vegas (last year) wasn’t what we wanted, but we’re excited to start our new season,” Wright said. “I was emotional, not necessarily for myself, but for my (senior) teammates Luke (Siewert) and Shane (Gatling). Those guys didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. I haven’t played there yet, but I can make the promise that we’ll be back there this year and we’ll be dancing. We get another shot at it.”
That NCAA Tournament appearance is the only glaring omission on Wright’s resume, which already counts as one of the most impressive in CU basketball history.
Last season, Wright became just the second player in program history (after Donnie Boyce) to amass at least 1,000 points, 400 assists, and 400 rebounds in a career. By the end of the season, he topped the 500 mark in both rebounds and assists.
He begins his senior season ranked 13th all-time in scoring (1,370), and a full, healthy season will give Wright a shot at landing a spot among the Buffs’ top five all-time scorers. He needs 61 assists to match Jay Humphries’ career record.
Wright already has earned a pair of first team All-Pac-12 honors and should be a Player of the Year candidate this year. He has been the Buffs’ floor general since he first set foot on campus three years ago yet this year, yet with four true freshmen and redshirt freshman guard Keeshawn Barthelemy now in the mix, Wright’s leadership qualities could be more critical to CU’s success than during any of his previous seasons.
“I’m more of a coach this season. Like being a coach on the floor. I’ve got a lot of younger guys,” Wright said. “I’ve been through this now. I know everything coach is going to say. I know every play that we have. I know his rules. I know what’s going on in practice. The offensive breakdowns, the defensive breakdowns, everything. For me, it’s just being like that coach on the floor, helping these young guys get to their right spots. Making sure they’re taking care of their bodies. Making sure they’re taking care of themselves off the court to prevent COVID. All type of stuff like that. Really, for me it’s just about being another coach for these guys.”
Wright dipped his toes into the NBA draft pool this past summer before returning to CU, telling reporters afterward the bulk of the feedback he received revolved around improving his 3-point percentage (career .337) and assist-to-turnover rate (career 1.68). Wright reiterated those points after Wednesday’s practice, and Boyle remains confident Wright can play at a new peak as a senior.
“I think it’s limiting his turnovers and being a great decision-maker when the ball is in his hands,” Boyle said. “And his efficiency in terms of his shooting percentages. If his shooting percentage becomes more efficient and goes up, and his turnovers go down, we know he’s a play-maker. We know the ball is going to be in his hands a lot. So it’s just a matter of becoming just a little bit more efficient.”