Wright, Hoyas Brace For Sizable Challenge

Chris Wright and the Hoyas will be facing a Memphis back court that sports plenty of tall bodies.
Chris Wright and the Hoyas will be facing a Memphis back court that sports plenty of tall bodies. (By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008; Page E01

When he played for St. John's College High School, Chris Wright was asked to score. And he did, almost single-handedly keeping his team in one game after another.

When he played his first season of AAU ball, Wright was asked to wait and watch as Eric Hayes and Scottie Reynolds started ahead of him. And he did without complaint.

And since he enrolled at Georgetown, Wright has been asked to focus less on shooting and more on creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. And he has, certainly through the first seven games of this season, much to the satisfaction of Coach John Thompson III.

Today brings a new challenge for Wright and the 19th-ranked Hoyas (6-1), who put their 25-game winning streak at Verizon Center on the line against 17th-ranked Memphis (5-1), last season's NCAA tournament runner-up.

At 6 feet 1, Wright will be the shortest player on the floor at tip-off. But it's a fair bet that his chief attributes -- confidence and coachability -- will help him level the disparity with the Tigers' towering complement of guards, none shorter than 6-5.

"He plays bigger than his size," fellow sophomore Austin Freeman said of his back-court mate. "He is everywhere. If you need him to be somewhere, he'll be there. If we need him to get rebounds, he'll get rebounds."

Said Boo Williams, his former AAU coach: "Chris is the kind of kid who will do what is asked of him, and he will do it well. He's got a lot of character, and he really works on his game."

Wright stepped into a huge role for the Hoyas this fall, taking over at point guard for four-year starter Jonathan Wallace with less seasoning than is ideal. He missed the entire Big East campaign his freshman year with a foot injury. While others played, Wright wore handsome suits and watched.

Wright is hardly willing to call the injury a blessing now, but he concedes he might have struggled with Thompson's offensive system, which is predicated on unselfishness, if he hadn't had the benefit of studying it so intently from the bench.

"I'm a very aggressive type of player," Wright said yesterday. "I like to score. Who doesn't like to score? But on this team, I don't have to score. That's the luxury of playing with a lot of great players. We have so many guys that can put the ball in the basket, I don't have a problem with creating shots or being the person who sets somebody up."

Memphis will be the second ranked opponent the Hoyas have faced. Their first, Tennessee, handed them their only loss (90-78) with a late-game scoring barrage.

Memphis is capable of similar offensive pyrotechnics. Despite losing three of last season's starters to the NBA, the Tigers reloaded impressively. They're led by freshman point guard Tyreke Evans (16.2 points per game), a 6-6 McDonald's all-American.

They also attack on defense, averaging 7.3 blocks and 11.3 steals per game. They haven't lost a road game in nearly two years and they're coming off 11 days' rest.

To prepare for the back-court size mismatch, Thompson has had Wright go against the 6-4 Freeman in practice, and the 6-3 Jessie Sapp work against 6-5 Omar Wattad and 6-8 Nikita Mescheriakov.

But not every attribute is measurable by a yardstick, Wright argues.

"We've got big guys, too, just maybe not in stature," Wright says. "We're very strong players, and we're physical. Because they're tall and athletic, that doesn't make us timid about anything."

Memphis roundly outplayed Georgetown last season, holding the Hoyas to 3-of-14 shooting from beyond the three-point arc and outrebounding them 43-30 en route to an 85-71 victory.

Wright played 17 minutes in that game, scoring nine points on 4-of-7 shooting, and remembers the lesson well.

"They came after us on both sides of the floor, especially in the second half," he said. "They attacked the boards and were much more physical."

This year's Hoyas won't make it so easy, he promised.

"We have the ability to pressure people, as you've seen in the last three games," Wright said. "We kind of wipe out teams defensively, and they kind of have trouble getting into their offense and scoring."

But Memphis is a far more formidable foe than the Hoyas' last three opponents -- Savannah State, American and Maryland, whom they outscored by 62, 24 and 27 points, respectively.

"What we can't do is let Memphis be the aggressor," Wright said. "We can't let them put us on our heels. When they press, we have to attack."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company