A stat that might surprise you:
MEMPHIS magazine has been published monthly since April 1976 . . . 34 years, more than 400 issues. Only twice has a Memphis Tiger basketball player graced the magazine’s cover: Keith Lee (as a sophomore) in January 1983 and Lorenzen Wright (also as a sophomore) in February 1996.
Dennis Freeland (then the editor of the Flyer) and James Busbee collaborated on a terrific profile of Wright as he was only beginning to grasp the heights his basketball talent might reach.
On a day Wright is to be memorialized at FedExForum — his life ended far too soon — I thought it fitting to share some excerpts from this story, first published 14 very long years ago.
• “When University of Memphis center Lorenzen Wright is on the court, you don’t go for a hot dog. You don’t slip away for a smoke. You don’t even blink. Because if you do, you’ll miss one of his bear-trap rebounds. You’ll miss one of his flyswatter blocks. Or if you’re extremely unlucky, you’ll miss The Howl.
“The Howl is Wright’s definitive statement of purpose, a two-handed tomahawk slam-dunk punctuated by a war whoop. It’s a move that comes from nowhere and brings crowds to their feet. The Howl can turn around the tempo of a game or slam the door shut on an opposing team. It’s the epitome of all the years of work that Wright and his father have put into Lorenzen’s game, and it’s too good to miss. But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry. Next year, Lorenzen Wright may well be throwing down The Howl in the NBA.”
• “In conversation, Wright is pleasant, confident, at ease. He’s had cameras and microphones in his face for years. He can spin cliches like a veteran, but he’s just as likely to come up with an insight showing that he’s not quite the slam-dunking automaton that college ballplayers are supposed to be.”
• “Herb Wright, the women’s basketball coach at Shelby State Community College, has always had a strong, guiding hand in his son’s basketball development.
‘The only hero that I ever really followed was my dad,’ Lorenzen says. ‘I still try to make my game as similar to his game as I can. . . .
‘I’ve been playing since as far as I can remember. I wasn’t what you’d call “good” when I was a kid. But I used to be out there trying my best, just shooting it up there over and over.’"
• Quoting Herb Wright, who was paralyzed from the waist down by a gun shot in 1983: “The last time I played ball [before the injury], I played like it was the last time. I played that way every time. I had no regrets. I never felt like I hadn’t given it my all. It could all end at any time, and you just want to look back and say, ‘I did my best.’ That’s what I’ve tried to teach my son.”
• Quoting Lorenzen: “I didn’t know how good I was going to be. I thought I was just going to get a couple of rebounds or something, and try to make it into the starting lineup.”
• Quoting Wright’s coach at the U of M, Larry Finch: “He’s a hard worker. You may outplay him, but you’ll never outwork him. He’s going to make you work.”
• “Ask Wright or his father about Lorenzen’s professional prospects, and they both turn uncharacteristically skittish. Lorenzen has had his dream of playing in the NBA for so long that neither man wants to jeopardize it by dwelling on it before the fact. Herb Wright still refers to Lorenzen’s pro prospects as an ‘if-and-when’ situation, adding that ‘it’s not something he needs to worry about now.’"
Among former Tigers, no player appeared in more NBA games than Lorenzen Wright’s 779. He holds the Memphis Grizzlies’ single-game record for rebounds with 26 (against Dallas at The Pyramid in 2001). Wright is one of four Tigers to reach 1,000 points before the end of his sophomore season (the others: Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, and Darius Washington).