GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You never know who you might run into at the Florida basketball complex during the offseason. Several times this summer, I bumped into Lee Humphrey, the shooting guard who helped take the Gators to unfathomable heights.
Tuesday I saw one of the original Billy Donovan building blocks.
“I’m proud of that,” Brent Wright said with the a smile.
Wright (pictured with me to the right) was a 6-foot-9 forward from Miami Senior High and was the first person to pledge to the 31-year-old Donovan and his youthful and unproven staff. Wright and Major Parker, out of Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, made up Donovan’s first signing class; the one who pitched as the foundation for great things in the future.
Two years later, the Gators were playing in the NCAA championship game.
There’s a reason Wright’s jersey was one of the select few -- along with Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, etc. -- whose giant jerseys decorated the practice facility for years as odes to what they meant for a program that under a future Hall of Fame coach has mushroomed into one of the best in the nation.
Wright, now 35 and set to enter his 13th professional season overseas, went through shooting drills Tuesday, got in a lift in the gym and visited with longtime trainer David “Duke” Werner, who stretched out his former player’s stiff back. In his offseasons, Wright lives in Miramar, Fla.
“Our seasons are so long and usually Coach [Donovan] is recruiting when I come to town,” said Wright, who in his UF days averaged 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 112 career starts, and is one of five players in Florida history to serve as team captain in multiple years (2001, '01). “It was nice to catch up with him. It’s always great to come back here.”
In his 12 pro seasons, Wright has won eight championships, including four straight in the Belgium league. His last two titles came with Telenet Oostende, for whom he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. He’s also played in Iran, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia.
Wright's plan is to play at least two more years.
“The young guys on the team tell me I should keep playing,” Wright said. “I think I could play another two years, for sure, as long as my body holds up. People tell me to play as long as i can. And I actually feel great.”
Looks great, too.