The fate of an entire season is riding on the health of one tiny bone in a 21-year-old’s left hand.
After missing three and a half games, senior point guard Chris Wright is all set to don his No. 4 jersey again and reassume his role as Georgetown’s point guard. The sixth-seeded Hoyas take the court Friday night against 11th-seeded VCU in their first game of the NCAA tournament at the United Center in Chicago.
“I told you, I’m a tough dude,” Wright said to reporters on Tuesday as the Hoyas boarded the team bus to the airport. “I ain’t worried about my hand. You guys worry about my hand, I’m not. My mother’s not worried about it, so if my mom’s not worried about it then I’m good. … I may get hit, but so what. Keep on smiling, keep playing.”
Judging by Wright’s positive review of his return to practice, which his teammates and head coach echoed, it appears certain that Georgetown is not attempting to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes. The former three time all-Met selection will start and likely play big minutes on Friday.
But this bears asking: How effective will Wright be, playing at game speed for the first time since Feb. 23?
“After two full days of practice, he’s participated in every drill, he feels fine, he doesn’t need any protection [on his left hand],” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “So we’re hopefully business as usual.”
“He practiced well yesterday, and he practiced well today,” senior guard Austin Freeman added on Tuesday. “He fell a couple times today, but he got back up and kept practicing. You can tell he’s ready and the hand is fine.”
That looks like encouraging news for Georgetown fans, but is it 100-percent genuine?
One interesting story from Monday’s practice might shed light on the answer to that question. Wright apparently went up for a layup, got hit and fell to the floor, bracing for impact with his hands.
“Everybody stopped for a minute,” Freeman said. “It got quiet in the gym.”
“He broke his fall with his hands, and he happened to fall right in front of me,” Thompson added. “So I don’t know if it was a hush, but immediately I was like, ‘You’re okay, right kid?'”
Wright sensed his teammates’ and coaches’ brief flash of dread, but all fears were alleviated when he got back on his feet and played on.
“I didn’t want to get hit, but it’s going to happen in the game,” Wright said. “I’m not going to act different about anything. I’m going to play my game, and my teammates all noticed I was just out there playing. I wasn’t favoring anything. I wasn’t trying to shy away from it. I was shooting left-handed layups, making left-handed layups, breaking up passes left-handed. I was just playing my normal game, nothing out of the ordinary.”
Wright’s normal game is a major reason why the Hoyas put together an eight-game Big East winning streak and began to look like a legitimate national contender by mid-February. At his best, he plays quality perimeter defense, orchestrates the read-based Georgetown offense and creates for himself and others with a slashing, aggressive style that makes things happen.
No doubt the Hoyas have other non-Wright issues to correct, like their frontcourt’s recent work in the paint and on the glass, but his return erases the main cause of Georgetown’s current four-game losing skid.
“We were playing very, very, very well with Chris in the lineup,” junior guard Jason Clark said. “We kind of slumped after he was gone. It boosts us a lot [to have him back] because we know that we have another person on the floor that does everything in every aspect of the game.”
It should not be ignored, though, that in addition to carving a unique place for himself as an all-time great Georgetown guard, Wright has also made his share of bone-headed plays and decisions over his career when it comes to shot selection, running the break and driving the lane looking for contact.
Still, given how stagnant and disjointed the Hoyas looked on offense without him, those drawbacks – which became increasingly infrequent this season – are a very small price to pay for having Wright back on the floor, even though he might need some time to reorient himself.
“I think the first few minutes [on Friday] are going to be an adjustment period,” Wright said. “But I think once I get into the flow of the game – probably after the first media timeout I’ll probably be exhausted – but I’ll be alright, I’ll adjust.”
All signs point to Wright feeling close to 100 percent come tip-off, but until we see him make a lefty layup in traffic, go to his left with confidence or absorb contact on the hand, there is no telling how effective he will be.
If he resembles the dynamic player that has steered the ship for most of the season – and the Hoyas believe that will be the case – Georgetown immediately becomes the most dangerous No. 6 seed in the tournament. If not – well, then the final win of the Freeman-Wright era may well have come in South Florida on Feb. 19.