Rooney: McKinley Wright IV should be retire-the-jersey candidate for CU Buffs

Decorated point guard honored with classmates on Senior Night

BOULDER, CO - Feb. 8, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photorapher
BOULDER, CO – February 8, 2021: Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV shoots over Oregon State’s Jarod Lucas during the Oregon State at Colorado men’s basketball game in Boulder on February 8, 2021.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

It’s a senior class that hopes its best memories at the University of Colorado are still set to unfold in the coming weeks.

It’s a group that helped coach Tad Boyle hit the reset button on the program, one that has picked up six wins against ranked foes over the past four years, and one that includes two of the three remaining pieces of the 2017 recruiting class that has a chance to be remembered as one of the best in program history.

Still, lingering over the Senior Night festivities following Saturday’s game against UCLA — which also tipped off the long, bittersweet farewell to CU all-timer McKinley Wright IV — has been the group’s lack of an NCAA Tournament appearance. It’s a drought that was extended through no fault of their own when the Buffs’ likely NCAA bid last year was denied when the tournament was an early sports casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a bid that’s within sight for this year’s Buffs. And that is all that’s missing to further bolster Wright’s future status as a retire-the-jersey candidate.

Wright may not enjoy the lengthy NBA careers of some of his Boyle-era predecessors at CU, but no one has displayed the nightly grit, or bled for the black-and-gold, more than Wright.

Alec Burks played just two seasons at CU with no NCAA tourney appearances, though the 2011 team that reached the NIT Final Four was a legitimate snub. Spencer Dinwiddie was a Buff for three seasons, with his final year cut short by a midseason injury. Andre Roberson also was a three-year guy, and Derrick White was on the Buffs’ active roster just one season.

Technically the Buffs don’t “retire” numbers anymore, with Burdette Haldorson (No. 22) and Cliff Meely (No. 20) the only ones that have been permanently removed from the rotation. Even Chauncey Billups’ No. 4 isn’t necessarily off limits, though no one has worn No. 4 since Andy Osborn in the 2005-06 season. Instead, the Buffs have a handful of “Honored Jerseys,” a group that includes Meely, Haldorson, Billups, Chuck Gardner (No. 13), Jim Davis (No. 20), Bob Jeangerard (also No. 20), Ken Charlton (No. 23), and Scott Wedman (also No. 4).

However, there also is no set rule against retiring another jersey permanently. At some point, the Boyle era will require representation among the Buffs’ honored jerseys. With apologies to Josh Scott, McKinley Wright and his No. 25 should be that guy.

Wright is set to be just the third CU player to earn three first-team all-conference honors. Meely and Wilky Gilmore, two stars from the late 1950s through early 70s, are the others. Wright is the only Pac-12 men’s basketball player to compile at least 1,700 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists in his career. He is the Buffs’ all-time assists leader, topping that mark in the same number of games played by the former record holder, Jay Humphries. Wright will finish his career in CU’s top six in scoring.

For some Buffs, Saturday’s Senior Night festivities and next week’s finale against Arizona State might not be the last goodbye. Maddox Daniels and Alex Strating, for instance, both recently told BuffZone they will at least consider the opportunities afforded by the NCAA’s eligibility relief for 2020-21, while 7-footer Dallas Walton has previously indicated he will seek a sixth season as a medical hardship.

But it’s definitely goodbye for Wright, whose only void on his resume is the sort of NCAA Tournament win Billups led against a college basketball blueblood, coach Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, in 1997.

Wright should be immortalized regardless. Yet if that elusive NCAA win happens in Indiana, perhaps fittingly, in a few weeks, just peel that No. 25 off the man’s back and raise it to the rafters ASAP.

“That’s a loaded question when you ask the coach,” Boyle said about possibly retiring Wright’s jersey someday. “I don’t always make those decisions but maybe the coach has been part of them. I don’t know what’s gone on in the past. He just passed Josh Scott (on the scoring list), and when you’re in Josh Scott’s category, you’re in rarified air from my standpoint. Yes, as far as I’m concerned. But those are decisions that are made above my head, down the road.

“But this kid is special. He’s one of one Pac-12 players to score 1,700 points, 600 rebounds, 600 assists. Now, the NCAA Tournament is something that’s eluded us this time of year. Now, obviously the first couple years we were in a rebuilding kind of situation. Last year we would’ve had it. This would’ve been going to his second one, assuming we go. We’ve got to finish strong. But he’s had a special, special career.”