Sharone Wright, Rookie GAmeby Matt Caputo

Some people thought Sharone Wright just vanished. After playing the better part of four seasons, Wright’s NBA career ended when a car crash took him out of action. Though the accident cost his place on the court, he’s never lost his spot in the game.

During parts of his four years at Clemson, Wright led the ACC in blocks and rebounds. The 6-11 Georgia native was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 6th pick in the 1994 draft. By the numbers, his best year in the League was as a rookie with the 76ers when he averaged 11.4 points and 6 rebounds per game in 79 games. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.

Now living near Amsterdam and working towards an NBA comeback–this time as a coach–Wright still hopes to make an impact in the league he’d dreamed he’d play in. SLAM spoke to Wright about where he’s been since he’s left the League.

SLAM: What’s up with you right now?
Sharone Wright: Trying to win all the games I can. Trying to get over there, to be an NBA coach someday. I’m coaching a team called Eiffel Towers in this League outside of Amsterdam. It’s a place called Den Bosch. It’s probably the capital of basketball in Amsterdam because we’ve won like 12 championships and stuff like that. It’s kinda like how New York is for basketball in the states.

Most people know Amsterdam as that freelance place where everything is legal and all that, and it’s true, but the people are great, my wife lives and works here, my son, Nicholas, was born here and speaks the language. It’s one of those things where I’m in an organization that really cares for me. There are a lot of places that you probably could be and wouldn’t like, but it’s awesome over here.

SLAM:
How’s the level of play out there?
SW: It’s not a great level of play, but our team and one other team in Amsterdam that Sharone Wright, todayplays in the Euro League so we are pretty much the cream of the crop in this area. I wouldn’t say we are quite with Spain but I think we could beat a team or two in that league.

SLAM: How did you end up with this job you have now?
SW: I was playing with this team for two years. We won championships both years. I came from Spain and also Poland. I went to Korea for a little while. After the NBA I stopped for two years. And then my mentor, Randy Weil, happened to be the coach of this team right here, because he is part Dutch, but he recruited me when I was at Clemson. He played and coached for North Carolina. He wanted me on the team and he said when you want to start coaching, let me know. So after I retired from playing I was head assistant for a year, then he moved me up to head assistant scout, so it worked out pretty good.

SLAM: What kind of lifestyle to you live when you were a college guy at Clemson?
SW: I was one of the top five or six players in the nation at that time, when I came out in ’99 I was All-American. I lived pretty good, but I also produced. I was Second-Team All-ACC and First-Team freshman All-American. I think I set three or four records my first year at Clemson where we were known for producing big men like Elden Campbell, Horace Grant, Tree Rollins, Dale Davis–guys like that. I kind of went there because I knew I had a similar game.

At Clemson it’s a little bit different because, obviously; it’s a football school. Over the years, we will have a good team every three or four years, it kind of worked out for me. I was going to commit to Duke, but my dad didn’t want me to because he felt like I wouldn’t play a whole lot. My dad wanted to be on the court at all times and didn’t want me to play for a coach that would defer to an older player, like a (Christian) Laettner, or someone like that. My dad, before he died when I was in 12th grade–the same day I got my scholarship–he wanted me to lift my family up, out of the ghetto, and he knew that the only way I could do that was to be on the court at all times and to go to a program that was all about me.

SLAM: The NBA player-agent relationships were a little bit different when you were playing college ball.
SW: I think so. I signed with David Falk coming out of school, everyone knows who he is because of his connections with Jordan and Iverson and so forth. I knew him because I knew some acquaintances of Jordan, so since I knew them I kind of knew Falk. It was all just phone calls. It really wasn’t anything like him coming to take me to dinner or anything like that. I think agents back then really knew their roles, they knew they couldn’t just come to your school and take you shopping and all that type of crazy stuff. It was more like you know if they are in the stands, like if David Falk is at a game, I know he is there.

SLAM: Do you feel you were ready when you went to the draft?
SW: I really do feel like I was. In some ways I’m not as proud of my NBA career as I should have been. My wife, Brandi, has always been been like, “you should be proud of where you were drafted and the three or four years that you did play.” I was a solid player but then I got injured in a car accident and I think some people didn’t understand that. What I really hate is when someone labels you and says you weren’t that good when my NBA career got halted when I was nearly killed in a car wreck in my fifth year. I was out for nearly two years because I broke my arm in about five places, so it was really hard for me to come back. It took me almost two and a half years, and when I came back it was difficult. You know you are either an NBA player or you’re not. You can’t just be off two years and think you are gonna be the same player. It’s just not like that.

SLAM: Aside from the accident, what would you say was the most difficult thing for you transitioning to the NBA?
SW: I would say that it was nothing on the court. On the court I was ready. I had a big body. I could play forward and center. The only thing that made it a hard transition was the outside life. Just the way that people crowd and surround you–you don’t have any spare time. Everyone is always trying to grab all your time and your space. I’m a space person. I need my space. When you are in the limelight you share your life with millions of people, and I try to not let that get to me but that was the hardest part.

SLAM: Would you say you were into the fast life?
SW: Yeah I would say I was at a certain point. I think we all do. It’s kind of true how the rappers say it, “it ain’t trickin’ if you got it…” you know what I mean. I was on the phone with my boy Tracy Murray the other day talking ’bout how those first couple years we tricked off money, spending it on chicks or cars, or all that type of stuff. But we learn, though. I was fortunate to have some older guys on my team the first couple years. Dana Barros, John Long, Derrick Coleman, I was around those guys that helped me not get caught up in it maybe as much as I would have otherwise.

SLAM: What was your greatest moment in the NBA?
SW: I really loved Philadelphia, but I got to say being on the early teams with the Sharone Wright, RaptorsRaptors was the best time that I had because I was around guys that I kind of grew up in basketball with. Sean Respert, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Doug Christie, we were all really cool. We had been at Nike Camp in New Jersey together–we were all on a lot of select teams together–it just seemed like we all started on that team and we had grown up together. That was the best time of my career, being a part of that team. We were surrounded by John Long, Alvin Robertson and other guys like that who we learned from.

SLAM: What was your lowest point in the NBA?
SW: I would say the day that I got up late one morning because I was helping some people out at the Harriet Tubman museum in Macon, Georgia. I was speeding, going 70 something in a 40 mile per hour zone, and I flipped my car and it ended my career, or my NBA career anyway. I turned the car over four or five times and broke my arm each time it turned over. That was really hard. And the toughest time after that was just the rehab, I was in a cast for six or seven months and I broke my shoulder too. It was hard because I was feeling like my career just wasn’t long enough, I was a solid player.

SLAM: When did it actually happen?
SW: It was my third year with the Raptors. I was looking for an extension. I had averaged 9 or 10 points a game, we had a solid team with Walt Williams, Damon, Sean, Popeye Jones–I mean we were really rollin at that point. We had Camby, McGrady, we were gonna draft Vince that following year. I was really looking forward to that and then things happened. I don’t even remember the day. I try not to. I had played four-and-a-half years in the League at that time.

SLAM: Does it bother you that some people might think of you as a bust? Or at least a bust in the sense as they might think ‘what happened to that guy’?
SW: That does bother me a lot because they don’t know what happened. They might say ‘well he only played four or five years.’ Even when you read SLAM and you read the “NOYZ” line on the bottom, people don’t understand what happens sometimes and I don’t like that. You ask people about me and they will tell you I was a solid player: I could get 20 a night, I could do a lot, I could play two or three positions. They don’t know that I almost killed myself or where I went for two years. The people that know me, they know what happened. Did people just think that I committed suicide or something? No, I was just in a really bad accident and I was in the hospital for a long, long time.

I tore my whole left side up. I messed up my shoulder and my collarbone, and I broke my arm in four or five spots. I cracked my elbow so I had to get artificial stuff in my arm. I had multiple surgeries. And then, when I did get back, I tried to play for the Raptors, but it didn’t work out like that. The following year I went to Europe and continued my career there for four or five more years and got stronger. I wasn’t an NBA player anymore, I think the prime of my career was taken by that accident.

SLAM: How did you get back into basketball shape after the accident? Were you working with anyone?
SW: There was a guy in Atlanta who actually went to Clemson. He was named Chubby Wells. We work out with Eric Snow, Jermaine O’Neal, Dale Davis. A lot of us go in there everyday.That whole summer, I just really dedicated myself to getting back. I couldn’t jump as high as I used to. A lot of the stuff leaves if you’re not playing consistently in the NBA, you kind of lose some things. But I didn’t mind, I was just happy to be on the court again. I went to Poland, ended up in Amsterdam and they loved me here and took a chance on me being a coach.

SLAM: How close did you get to the League again?
SW: I played well in the Miami mini camp the first year that they had Shaquille and Coach Riley liked me and then they signed Doleac. I felt like I was better than him, but they signed him; it’s politics sometimes. That particular year, Shaq didn’t have a back up and I wanted to be the back up. I worked as hard as I could and I really think that I did great there, and they told me that they thought so, too, and that I had a possibility of making the team. Then, next thing you know, they signed Doleac. I’m not a hater, but I would have loved the opportunity and I think I earned it. When that happened, though, I just went on to Europe and left it at that.

SLAM: What can you tell some of the young cats today, like Brandon Jennings, who are going overseas or thinking about doing it?
SW: I did a lot of scouting for my team in Europe, so I’ve seen every part of this game over here. Let me just say this: if you have a chance to go to college, then please go because, if you’re in high school, there’s no way that you’re ready for this over here. You know why? See, in the NBA, they coddle you a bit–you know, show you around, stuff like that–but when you step foot over here on one of these teams, you’re supposed to be a grown ass man when you get over here.

I practice my guys twice a day and, in the middle of that, you got to lift weights. There’s really no way a youngster can prepare for what goes on over here; sometimes you don’t get your money on time, sometimes you don’t have the right living arrangement. And you say that just because of money you want to come over here? You better get your education first. If you got to go to JuCo, then go to JuCo because if you’re any good, then the money will be there. Brandon Jennings, maybe he can do it, you just don’t know. He’s going to the Italian League which is a very tough league. I won’t be surprised Sharone Wright, Sixersif they double team him and get all on him just to show that young American guys can’t come over and do it, just to prove a point. I’m not gonna say don’t go, but if you have a chance to stay, then stay. It’s not a candy ass league. A lot of what it is are the agents and shoe company people telling them to turn their head up. That’s all it really is.

SLAM: How do you feel that you’ll be remembered by NBA fans?
SW: I don’t know. I hope they say that I was a hardworking guy and, after reading this article and knowing exactly what happened to me, I would hope that people don’t think that I was just a guy who decided to stop playing. I was in a really horrible accident and it was hard to get back. I’m a big fan of basketball, and SLAM, and the NBA, and I hope to be there pretty soon as a coach. As a matter of fact, I know that I’m gonna be there as a coach in the next three to four years. I’m putting in the work right now. Instead of the NBA giving jobs to guys who don’t know the game, I’ll be one of the guys that does know the game. I’ll be taking the Mike D’Antoni way of coaching–starting over here and making my way over there.