When McKinley Wright IV made his decision official to return to Colorado for his senior season, an easy comparison for a career path he might strive to follow could be seen in former Oregon guard Payton Pritchard.
Like Wright this season, Pritchard was a decorated college player who remained off the NBA draft radar going into his senior season. But Pritchard put together the best season of his career as a senior, and ultimately he was selected No. 26 overall in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.
Through CU’s 7-3 start, Wright is on pace for the best year of his career as well. Pritchard is off to a solid start as a pro, coming off the bench to average 8.2 points and 2.2 assists through Boston’s first eight games. Pritchard enjoyed a monster game in a win at Toronto Monday, going 8-for-13 with 23 points and eight assists in 32 minutes.
Whether Wright plays his way into draft consideration remains to be seen. Yet as the Buffs get set to host the 17th-ranked Ducks on Thursday afternoon (3 p.m. MT, FS1), Oregon coach Dana Altman noted a key similarity between Wright and his former point guard. And it has nothing to do with any of the numbers Wright or Pritchard have ever produced.
“I think the biggest (similarity) is that they’re both great competitors,” Altman said. “I’m a big fan and I love his competitiveness. He fights to the end, win or lose. He tries to get his teammates to compete. Which is a great quality of leadership — trying to get others to compete with you. They’re not afraid to take big shots. Payton wasn’t afraid to take big shots. And that all comes from preparation. When you want to take that last shot, you know you’re prepared. And your teammates know you’re prepared. You can’t fool your teammates. They know who the hardest working guy in the gym is.
“(Wright) impresses me as that type of player. I know how highly Tad talks about him. From our end, I think he’s a really good player. Payton made himself a player. There is no doubt about his work ethic and what he’s done. He was prepared to go the Celtics. I’m glad he’s off to a great start, but I envision McKinley doing the same thing. I’m sure he’s working awfully hard at Colorado.”
The 3-point stroke of D’Shawn Schwartz appears to be in prime form, with the senior going into the Oregon game shooting .480 from long range (12-for-25). Yet during last week’s three-game road trip to open Pac-12 play, Schwartz on several occasions was able to beat his defender to the basket, only to fall short in finishing the play.
“It’s certainly frustrating, especially when it’s been going well at practice for the most part,” Schwartz said. “I think it’s more a fact of making sure I get those same reps and seeing them going in. A lot of them are contact finishes than anything. I think it’s more of a practice rep thing and making sure I get those in practice. Remain aggressive regardless, because I believe that they’ll fall at some point if I keep getting them up.”
While Schwartz is off to a solid start from 3-point range, his shooting percentage on conventional 2-pointers is just .226 (7-for-31). It’s a figure CU head coach Tad Boyle hopes start climbing against Oregon.
“We work on it at practice, scoring through contact,” Boyle said. “I think sometimes some players who drive to the basket are driving to draw contact. They’re not driving to put the ball in the hole. McKinley Wright is a good example. When McKinley Wright drives, he driving to score. I think sometimes when D’Shawn gets in there he’s almost expecting the contact and when it doesn’t necessarily come, he’s off-balance. Or he’s expecting the contact, the contact happens, he’s expecting a whistle and the whistle doesn’t happen. Sometimes the whistle does happen but he doesn’t finish it.
“He’s a very capable finisher. We’ve seen that at practice. We’ve seen that through the years. But he’s having a harder time this year for whatever reason finishing in the lane. If you look at his 2-point field goal percentages versus his 3-point, they’re staggeringly polar opposite.”
Schwartz enters Thursday’s game raked 15th all-time at CU with 122 made 3-pointers. He needs three more to match Cory Higgins for 14th-place.
Once again, Arizona State senior guard Remy Wright received a national honor that Wright did not.
On Wednesday, the Top 25 Midseason Watch List for the Wooden Award was released, and Martin was one of just two Pac-12 players to earn a spot (also USC freshman Evan Mobley). Martin also received first team preseason AP All-American honors while Wright did not receive a single vote, despite leading Martin in several statistical categories throughout the course of their concurrent careers.
Arizona State so far has been one of the more disappointing teams in the Pac-12, while Wright is just 10 assists shy of surpassing Jay Humphries as CU’s all-time assists leader. Here’s how both senior guards match up so far this season. (Wright had played 10 games and Martin seven games going into Thursday.)
Points per game: Martin 16.9; Wright 15.5.
Field goal percentage: Wright .560; Martin .506.
3-point percentage: Wright .357; Martin .276.
Rebounds per game: Wright 4.5; Martin 3.0
Assists per game: Wright 5.2; Martin 3.6.
Assist-to-turnover rate: Wright 2.74; Martin 1.56.
Wright is one of just five Pac-12 players to collect at least 1,500 points, 500 assists, and 500 rebounds in his career, joining a club that includes former Arizona star and current Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton, former UCLA star Pooh Richardson, 1970s-era Oregon standout Ron Lee, and Pritchard. Wright is on pace to become the first Pac-12 player to amass at least 1,500 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists.
The recent easing of health restrictions by Governor Jared Polis may soon open the doors for family members to soon attend CU home games. The Pac-12 extended its no-crowd policy indefinitely but left the door open for family members to attend games if it complies with local health orders. CU parents won’t be at Thursday’s game, but that could change in the near future.
“I’m hopeful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for our players’ sake and our players’ parents’ sake,” Boyle said. “I know that’s being worked on right now through our administration. Those are not discussions that I’m a part of, other than trying to prod and ask and beg and let people know that are making those decisions just how important it is to our players and their parents, and how safe we can make it here. Because I think in a 10,000-seat arena…other people around the country have done it and we haven’t had major breakouts of COVID. So it can be done. We need the blessing of the powers that be.”
“I think it might just be an aspect of pride. It’s something that we always pride ourselves on is being able to beat Oregon at home.”
–CU senior D’Shawn Schwartz, on Colorado’s unbeaten (9-0) home mark against Oregon.