Monday, November 06, 2006

Grambling greats: Larry Wright

Wright receives SWAC glory
GSU coach joins former Richwood teammate Sammy White in Hall of Fame
December 10, 2005

By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Folks used to call them "White and Wright," back when these two won the Class 3A basketball state title at Richwood High School southof Monroe in 1972.

Now, Larry Wright and Sammy White will be known as Southwestern Athletic Conference hall-of-famers.

Wright, Grambling State University men's basketball coach, was honored Friday night, just one year after White, his former Richwood teammate. Both later had distinguished careers at Grambling, a SWAC institution located just a few miles down Interstate 20.

That was appropriate, Wright said, since their prep coach, Herschel West, had also played at GSU for the legendary Fred Hobdy.

"To this day," Wright said, "I haven't seen a high school backcourt like `White and Wright.' To go in a year after Sammy, I feel like it's fitting."

Wright joined a stellar cast of former SWAC greats who were honored at the Sheraton Ballroom in Birmingham, a day before the conference's football championship game. Among those also inducted Friday night was former Mississippi Valley star Jerry Rice, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

White was on hand to see Wright's emotional induction, along with fellow former Grambling great James "Shack" Harris, a Carroll High product who now works as an executive with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

The crowd was peppered with other legends, including former Alcorn and Southern coach Marino Casem; and Valley coach Willie "Satellite" Totten, who was Rice's quarterback.

"The guys that are here," SWAC commissioner Robert Vowels said, "it just sends chills up my spine."

Wright won a SWAC tournament title under Hobdy, then a NBA title with the NBA's Washington Bullets in 1978. Meanwhile, White would focus on football, playing for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson, then later for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. He's now Grambling's offensive coordinator.

"Coach Hobdy saw me as a sophomore at Richwood High School and he told me: `If I don't see you anymore, you will be my starting guard two years from now,'" Wright said. "That was overwhelming for me. I didn't know what he saw. When I became a senior and was being recruited by schools all over the nation, I remembered what Coach Hobdy told me. That's the reason I came to Grambling."

A former SWAC Freshman of the Year, Wright would go onto garner all-conference and NCAA small-college All-America honors twice. He led Grambling to the 1976 SWAC tournament championship, on the way to player-of-the-year honors.

Wright then entered the NBA draft, where he was selected in the first round by Washington. A season later, he had won a world championship. Wright later had a celebrated basketball career overseas, winning the European Championship in 1982.

He took over Hobdy's old spot in May 1999 at Grambling.

"Having an opportunity to play at Grambling, following in the footsteps of my high school coach Herschel West, it was overwhelming," Wright said. "The biggest thing I did not want to do was to let him down. I had some big shoes to fill. Hopefully, one day people will realize that what I did at Grambling was try to live up to what those guys did before me, guys like Herschel West and James Jones before him. They need to be in the SWAC Hall of Fame as well."

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Hard work by Wright was catalyst
Ex-GSU standout will be member of LABC Hall
April 30, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Something burned inside small guard Larry Wright, the product of a single-parent home in the poorest part of southside Monroe.

He'd use that fire to win championships for his Louisiana high school and college — then titles in the National Basketball Association and overseas.

"I hope it says something to our youth today, that just because you come from a household with just a mother and nine kids, it doesn't mean you can't go out and make something of yourself," said Wright, who still has a photo of his mother inside the basketball office at the old Memorial Gym at Grambling State.

Now, the former Richwood High and GSU standout has been selected for induction in the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. Wright is the fifth GSU product to be inducted, along with players Bob Hopkins, Aaron James, Willis Reed — and the man who led them all, the late Fred Hobdy.

Hobdy remains an inspiration to Wright, who assumed his college mentor's job as GSU coach in 1999. Hobdy, who died in 1998, is the winningest men's college basketball coach in Louisiana history, with nearly 600 victories over a 30-year career.

"He would be drilling you, running you like there is no more tomorrows, but afterwards if you had a problem he would switch hats," Wright said. "Instead of your coach, he became your father — so understanding of the problem, whatever it might have been. There was no way you could think a guy who had just been screaming at the top of his voice could do that, but he did. I will always remember that."

Wright was a two-time Parade All-American at Richwood, where he won a Louisiana state Class 3A title in 1972 as a junior, then transferred to Western High in Washington D.C., as a senior. There, he played for another future Grambling AD, Robert Piper.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference's freshman of the year in 1973, Wright would go on to garner all-conference and NCAA small-college All-America honors twice.

"The best small guard we've ever had, pound for pound the best guard," Hobdy once said. "A great jumper, he gets an 'A' in every category."

Wright finished his Grambling career on a high note, leading the Tigers to the 1976 Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship, on the way to player-of-the-year honors.

"That was the last time we won the SWAC tournament," said teammate Theodis Johnson, a 1978 GSU graduate who now works as an assistant to Wright.

"Nobody gave us a chance that particular year," Johnson continued. "We played all the Mississippi schools (Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley) and we ended up defeating all of them. It was a Mississippi sweep for us. That was one of the bright spots in Coach Wright's career. That's when everybody took notice."

Then a junior, Wright entered the NBA draft — where Washington selected him in the first round. Wright's Bullets won the 1978 NBA championship in his second professional season, part of a career that included a two-year stint at Detroit.

Wright also helped Italy's Banco DiRoma to the European Championship and was named the best player in Europe in 1983-84.

Wright's first return to Grambling was to complete the degree he'd never gotten: He graduated in health and physical education in 1982, and served as an assistant coach at GSU while he pursued a master's degree in sports administration in the early 1990s.

Wright then worked as an NBA scout and as an assistant at Ouachita Parish High before returning to coach athis alma mater seven seasons ago.

It's given him a chance to continue that tradition of close-knit family.

Wright's daughter Ashana played basketball for GSU, where she earned a master's in social work. Son Larry Jr. also received a master's at Grambling, while son Lance earned a bachelor's while playing as a multi-year starter on the football team.

Wright traveled all over — only to find himself, and his family, right back at home. That's why, he said, this recognition is so meaningful.

Every coach he played for in high school and college was a Louisiana native. Richwood's West and Western's Piper are Rayville products, while Hobdy hailed from Winnfield.

"It means a lot of that we were all Louisiana folks," Wright said. "Then to go to Grambling and be a first-round draft choice after my junior year, that says something about the teaching they gave me."

Those roots run further back, too, all the way to the southside of Monroe — where Wright used his mother's love as a catalyst to get out.

"It makes me think of all the values that she taught me," Wright said. "I worked hard, and kept working, and things worked out. It's rewarding when you get my age and look back over your career like that. I always dedicate awards like this to my family. They got me here."

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