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Joey Wright: 21 years and counting

April 22, 1995 is an unknowingly significant day in NBL history. That night, 21 years ago now – a handful of players from a variety of backgrounds would each form their own unique contribution to the League. Glen Saville would leave rural Victoria to become one of the all-time greats, with 563 NBL games played over 19 seasons. An 18-year old Simon Dwight would commence his career as the League’s only player to block over 1,000 shots. Import Steve Woodberry would start his career on the Gold Coast and be crowned NBL MVP with the Bullets four years later. And, a fresh faced 26-year old named Joey Wright would make his debut with the Geelong Supercats. Wright was the headline of the day, and has since carved out an enviable career in the NBL as a player, and now head coach of the Adelaide 36ers. joeywright_1996 21 years later, Joey Wright reflects that his time in Australia was never meant to last this long. “I had been playing for a few years around Europe and at one stage was on a touring team with Mike Mitchell and Fred Cofield. It was those two that convinced me to come down here,” he said. “Both of those guys were playing in the NBL at that particular time and they told me I wouldn’t get as much money as I would in Europe, but I’d just love the country and the basketball. “They were right. I told myself I would go there for just one year… and I’m still here.” Wright was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 1991 NBA Draft after an outstanding stint at the University of Texas; but found himself a comfortable home at the Supercats. “I really enjoyed my first year. At that time, Geelong was the best place for me. It was a mix between a big city and a country town - the people were really good to me. “Playing under Jim Calvin was great. He gave me the ability to move around and play. I messed my knee up the first month I was there, but played out the season and had surgery afterwards. “I knew even at that time after seeing the game around the world, that this was a great League to be involved in. Australia is definitely is the best country in the world to live in, and you have a really great quality of basketball, so it was a no brainer for me for me to move here.” At the end of his first season, Wright led Geelong in scoring and assists and the Supercats made changes to their coaching staff by bringing in rookie coach Ian Stacker and a first-time assistant Andrej Lemanis. It seemed that Wright’s off-season knee surgery was not viewed favourably. “When Stacker came in as coach, he didn’t really want to deal with my injury but I was on a two-year deal so he had too. Eventually it all went south. “Andrej was pretty much in charge of my rehab and trying to get me back. “We had a lot of good names around that team. Mark Beecroft [current CEO of the Cairns Taipans] was involved, Cecil Exum, Rupert Sapwell and Simon Kerle. I have made many lifetime friends from that time.” Wright departed ways with Geelong just two games into his second season, and that could have very well been the last the NBL had seen of him. With his playing career over, Wright turned to coaching back in Texas but he remained in touch with his Australian friends - and eventually the opportunity to return opened up. It came via the current Sydney Kings Managing Director, Jeff Van Groningen. “I had had some prior relationship with Jeff as a player. Jeff went to high school in Texas and so Jeff knew me from college. “Jeff was the general manager of the Brisbane Bullets at the time. He and Simon Kerle were having a discussion one day because the Bullets were suffering. Simon suggested me to Jeff and he agreed. “I came back with the intention of getting some more experience on my resume as a coach and then to go back, but I really enjoyed the NBL and the challenge of getting the Bullets into good shape.” Wright did more than just knock them back into shape. ACQPR-L12-TIG-20160420101456 He took a ball club that had lost their first ten games of the season into the Finals the following year, and then celebrated Championship glory just four years later. One of the constants in the NBL since the Bullets’ dominant era is the combination of Wright with guard Adam Gibson, a grouping that extended over nine seasons at three different clubs. With Gibson recently choosing to return to Queensland to play for the new look Bullets, their 273-game relationship has ended, and they face being on opposite sides for the first time ever. “It will be fine for me. I don’t have to run around and do anything. I just have to watch. I have a good feel for his weaknesses as well as his strengths, so we will obviously try and nullify him when we can,” said Wright. “He is a great player and I’m sure it will probably be a little weird looking at him in another uniform but it was time for him to go. “His heart wasn’t here and it was time for us to part ways. All my stories that may have motivated him in the past didn’t motivate him anymore. “It was totally mutual there was no dramas or anything. It was definitely time.” 25b2192ab53ca4c03ce451b330058cc0 Power forward Anthony Petrie was another player who had a long-term history with Wright (seven seasons) but his departure from Adelaide was more of a surprise. “The Petrie departure was a bit of a shock to us. We had no indication that he was leaving until the free agency period came upon us, so that was a different situation. “He has a lot of family in Brisbane. Whatever he needed to do for his family was more important than him being here.” 749084-0d0cedf8-105b-11e3-92bf-1ac22055d80e-1Wright concedes that there will be extra feelings when the Sixers face the Bullets in the 2016/17 NBL season. “There will definitely be some spice. I have never had an issue with players leaving, because wherever they select to go, is where they will play their best. “If they are at a club for the wrong reasons, it a better situation for everyone if they are where they want to be.” Despite two high-profile departures, the 378-game coaching veteran will not be rushing out to find replacements. While other teams frantically try to lure free agents and imports, Wright will instead let the off-season madness sort itself out. “We are just waiting to see how the market shapes up. See what happens. We are in no rush to do anything - there’s a lot of quality players that haven’t been signed,” he said. “As it stands, we have enough of a nucleus. Adelaide will add two imports to what we already have. “So, we are going to let the big boys fight between themselves. Then we will come in and see what we can do. I just don’t feel like there needs to be a real rush right now.” After 21 years of NBL experience, Wright can’t be wrong.
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