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Rooney: McKinley Wright IV on brink of shattering CU Buffs’ 37-year old assists record

Jay Humphries’ 562 assists hasn’t been threatened since 1984

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 7, 2021: ...
BOULDER, CO – January 7, 2021: Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV drives the lane through several Oregon defenders during the Colorado Oregon men’s game in Boulder on January 7, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It was early in the second half when McKinley Wright IV found himself alone — like, really alone — in the corner just in front of the Colorado bench.

One adjustment Wright has made in the early stages of his senior season with the Buffaloes is that he is launching 3-pointers at a slightly less frequent rate. This, however, was an opportunity impossible to pass.

Despite the reduced attempts, Wright also is connecting from long range at a slightly improved rate so far this season, and this three was nothing but net. It of course riled up the Buffaloes’ bench immediately behind Wright, and the shot was part of a game-changing 14-2 run that opened the second half of what became a 79-72 win on Thursday against 17th-ranked Oregon.

Wright very well could make a big piece of CU Buffs basketball history on Monday, as he stands just four assists shy, and five from surpassing, Jay Humphries’ career assists record of 562. Humphries compiled that total in 112 career games. If Monday’s date at Utah (4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) tips off as scheduled, it will be Wright’s 111th career game. And he has posted fewer than four assists just once this season.

“When I first made it to this school I didn’t really realize or think that I’d be in this position,” Wright said. “It’s a credit to God, my teammates, and my coaching staff for putting me in position to make plays for my teammates. But with all that being said, it’s just a blessing and honor to be in the position that I’m in today.”

Humphries’ record has stood for nearly 37 years, longer than many prominent CU men’s basketball career records. Cliff Meely held the all-time scoring record for 24 years before he was surpassed by Donnie Boyce (who later was surpassed by current co-leaders Richard Roby and Cory Higgins). Meely also owned the all-time rebounding mark for 32 years before Stephane Pelle, still the all-time leader, took over.

Humphries’ mark, however, has never been seriously assaulted. Chauncey Billups (282 assists) would have had a shot in a four-year career, but he spent just two seasons at CU. Jose Winston (440 assists) made a run in the late 1990s/early 2000s but, again, a three-year career kept him well short of Humphries. Among four-year players, the closest any players have gotten to Humphries’ mark are Mike Reid (446), whose final tally was limited by playing alongside Humphries for two seasons, and Marcus Hall (423), who probably still needed a fifth full season to even approach Humphries.

Wright, though, is on pace to set a standard that could very well stand for more than 37 years. And even though Buffs fans can’t attend games at the CU Events Center, here’s hoping they appreciate a player who will go down as one of the program’s all-time greats. And who deserves much, much more attention than he is receiving from national media.

It was said in this corner more than a month ago that Arizona State’s Remy Martin receiving first team preseason All-American honors while Wright failed to receive a vote is a discrepancy impossible to explain. It happened again this week. This isn’t to pick on Martin, no doubt a great player, but he offers an easy comparison as a 6-foot senior guard, like Wright. Unlike Wright, Martin seemingly is the go-to token Pac-12 veteran for voters of national accolades. Earlier this week, Martin landed on the midseason top 25 for the Wooden Award. Wright did not, despite this season’s numbers clearly backing CU’s point guard.

Wright dipped his toes in the NBA draft waters this past season, and so far he has taken the feedback to heart. The two issues working against Wright’s draft stock the most, besides not being a few inches taller, are his outside shot and assist-to-turnover rate. After shooting an average of 3.15 3-pointers per game through his first three seasons, Wright is firing an average of 2.72 attempts through the first 11 games this season. He entered the season with a career 3-point percentage of .337. Wright is shooting .367 going into the Utah game.

Wright entered the year with a career assist-to-turnover rate of 1.68. He heads to Utah boasting a mark of 2.71. (For those wondering, Humphries’ career assist-to-turnover rate was 1.97, with a single-season best of 2.05 as a junior.)

Of course, Wright will be the first to say the one thing missing from his CU resume is making noise in the NCAA Tournament, an opportunity that was denied the Buffs when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Entering Saturday, CU stood at No. 11 in the NET rankings and 19th at KenPom.com, meaning a tourney bid is the Buffs’ to lose the rest of the way.

Winning at Utah, where the Buffs suffered the most gut-wrenching of their five straight defeats to end last season, would be another big step in that direction with a glut of home dates still to come. More national attention? Wright deserves it. If he keeps playing as he has, Wright will be impossible to ignore.