MEMPHIS — As Brentwood Academy prepares for senior night against rival McCallie on Friday, one of its own celebrated a homecoming just two nights before.
Former Eagles’ basketball standout Brandan Wright began the 2015-16 NBA season at home with the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he had plenty of support from family, former teammates and coaches.
Memphis suffered a 106-76 setback to James and the defending NBA runnersup, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of Wright’s return to his home state.
“I’m excited to be back in my home state of Tennessee,” Wright said in a speech to the crowd before the game. He logged 17 minutes off the bench, scoring eight points and pulling down two rebounds.
Wright has fond memories of Tennessee and his time at Brentwood Academy. He was a four-time state tournament MVP while leading the Eagles to four consecutive Division II-AA titles from 2003-06 and picking up three Mr. Basketball awards.
Wright’s wife (Tucker) and daughter (Olivia) were among those in attendance to support him Wednesday, along with his brother, Brian, who is a year younger than Brandan and was a part of three of those state championship-winning teams, and his grandmother, Jewell.
Two of his friends from Brentwood Academy (Josh Slater, Connor Prady) were also at the game, as well as current Eagles’ basketball coach Hubie Smith and rival coach John Harrington from Briarcrest, whose team Wright knocked out of three state tournaments.
Born and raised in Nashville, Wright’s accomplishments and time at Brentwood Academy have played a big part in where he is today.
“I know how he feels about his state championships and having played here and grown up in the state,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said. “He’s excited to play in front of the home fans.”
Having those hometown fans, especially his support system from Brentwood Academy, largely factored into his decision to pass up other offers and sign a three-year, $18 million deal with the Grizzlies during the offseason.
“One of the reasons that he signed here is he loves the state and he loves it here (in Memphis),” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said.
Looking up to see people he knows in the stands is a welcome sight for the former North Carolina player and No. 8 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (Charlotte). He hasn’t had a home game in Tennessee since his time at Brentwood Academy.
“It’s always good to have familiar faces around,” said Wright, who has averaged 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds during his NBA career. “It makes you feel like you’re at home and the support is always the best. You play better, you feel better. No one likes to be on an island by yourself.”
For Wright, a three-year stop in Memphis would be a nice change of pace. This is his sixth team in his eighth season as a pro. He has played for Golden State, Dallas, New Jersey, Boston and Phoenix (logging time with Dallas, Boston and Phoenix in the 2014-15 season).
Members of the Grizzlies think Wright is finally where he belongs.
“There is we he needs to be at; back home,” two-time NBA All-Star and Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said. “Now the family can come see him.”
Still hanging around
While Wright graduated from Brentwood Academy in 2006, he still spends a lot of time at his alma mater.
“I’m there almost every day in the offseason training, and I do all my work there,” said Wright, whose best season as a pro came in 2013-14 with Dallas (9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds).
Wright trains with middle school coach Spencer Richardson and sees Smith a lot, but those aren’t the only BA ties he’s kept in touch with.
“I know a lot of the students, a lot of the staff,” Wright said. “I’ve kept those relationships since high school, and it’s good to have those people on your side.”
More of the people he has stayed in touch with tried to come Wednesday, but a 7 p.m. game in Memphis doesn’t exactly scream, “school night.”
“I actually called our headmaster and assistant headmaster to see if they wanted to come, but they had meetings and couldn’t make it,” Smith said. “Kurt Masters, our headmaster, said, ‘Please give Brandan a hug for me.’ That’s kind of the way they look at him. He’s so well-liked and has always carried himself in the highest standards.”
Perfect role model
One of the reasons Wright has such strong support from the BA community is the example he sets for current students and athletes, and he still supports his former squad, despite a hectic NBA schedule.
“He’s just such an outstanding young man, and he’s a great role model for our BA kids when he’s around,” Smith said. “He comes to some of our games, he watches us practice and he talks to our kids a lot. I think he’s just a great person to have because he’s playing at the highest level and he still loves BA.
“They look up to him unbelievably.”
Brentwood Academy’s support comes full circle. While Wright still gives and gets support from his alma mater, it’s all due to the initial support he received in his time at BA.
“I think it says a lot about the people who are over there and the experience we had as students,” Brian Wright said. “It’s just a great place to be and a great experience.”
And his ties to BA are likely far from over.
“My understanding is that he wants to come back there and coach one day,” Smith grinned. “Maybe he’s going to take my job.”
Reach Sam Brown at 615-259-8232 and on Twitter @SamBrownTN.