“The day he walked on our campus our entire program changed.”
Those are some strong words, but Jonathan Pixley, the head basketball coach at The Dunham School, means every single one of them when describing the impact of Jordan Wright.
“We went from a program that had some success, but not at the championship level, to ‘now we are an immediate state championship contender every year that he’s there,’” Pixley adds. “Him being there was contagious to every player in the program. They knew now that there was a new standard of success that we’re basing everything on, and he was the primary reason for that.”
Wright, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, was first-team all-state during his senior season in which he averaged 20 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals per game. He also led Dunham to three consecutive state championships appearances, with his team coming out victorious in the last two.
The 2018 state championship, the first one that Dunham won with Wright, led to what Wright describes as “the best basketball moment in [his] life so far.”
In the game against its rival school Episcopal, Dunham was down by as much as 16 points late in the third quarter. As Pixley recalls, he called a timeout and basically told his team that there was nothing else he could do for them schematically; it was up to them and how much they wanted it.
“I was looking at [Wright] whenever I said it because obviously he’s the leader of the team,” Pixley says. “I can remember looking at him and could just see his face light up and reality came in and he was like, ‘no, I’m not about to let this happen.’”
Wright remembers that moment well, too.
“We had lost the state championship the year before in my sophomore year,” he says. “I just remember in that timeout we were just like ‘we’re not doing this again’. We were saying ‘we’re not going out sad again.’ So, we just went from that point on and tried to do all we could to win.”
Sure enough, Wright came out of that timeout with a win-at-all-costs mentality, scoring 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter and leading his team to a tie game with 27 seconds remaining. From there, Wright dribbled out most of the clock before driving into the lane and putting up a twisting, off-balance shot between multiple defenders.
Nothing but the bottom of the net.
Just over a year after Wright hit the game-winning shot to secure a state championship, he became Jerry Stackhouse’s first-ever commitment at Vanderbilt.
Wright, like many Vanderbilt athletes, was drawn to the opportunity to combine high-level academics with the ability to play in the SEC.
“My mom and my dad have always been big on academics ever since I was a kid,” he says. “Pretty much the reason I chose every school I ever went to was for the academics.”
In addition to the academics and competing in the SEC, Wright was immediately sold on the idea of playing under Stackhouse.
“When [Stackhouse] called me that was honestly a surprise,” Wright says. “I knew he played my position, I knew he had a lot of things to offer me and I knew about the development he had with his players. I think you’ve seen it with all of our players this year. I think everyone from last year has gotten better. I think it’s evident on the court and it just speaks to his ability to train players and develop them.”
Wright’s first year on West End was an up-and-down one.
He averaged a modest 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 16.5 minutes of action per game. He went off for a career-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting in a road loss against Tennessee. But there were also a couple of games where he didn’t see the floor.
Still, the potential was clear as was the forming chemistry between a trio of then-freshmen: Wright, Scotty Pippen Jr. and Dylan Disu.
“[Pippen Jr. and Disu] are my two best friends,” Wright says. “I’m with them everyday, all day, and we talk all the time. I think with us being as close as we are; we know each other’s games, [and] we know what each other likes to do. I think we all complement each other well. We all bring something different to the table.”
Even while his minutes and offensive production oscillated over the course of the season, Wright’s versatility, a trait he showcased throughout his high school career, instantly stood out.
“He has the ability to be kinda a jack-of-all trades [and do] kind of whatever the team needs,” Pixley says. “Obviously, he can score the ball, but if it’s getting other people involved, if it’s guarding multiple positions on the floor, if it’s rebounding, he has the ability to do a little bit of everything. He can be the ultimate gap-filler for any group that he plays for.”
Wright’s defense in particular was key for him earning minutes early in his collegiate career.
“My dad always talked to me about defense,” Wright says. “He never really cared about offense, to be honest. It’s always been about defense, being tough and bringing that grit to the team. That’s something he’s always preached to me since I was a little kid.”
Toughness and grit are two qualities that Wright prides himself on bringing night in and night out as a Commodore. Those traits were first instilled by his dad and later strengthened through his time at The Dunham School.
“My high school team, we were skilled but we were never the best team, we were never the biggest team,” Wright says. “I kinda feel like it’s the same here at Vanderbilt. We don’t have the biggest guys, we might not be the most talented team, but we just always have to have that grit, that toughness and that competitiveness to always keep pushing and try to get the win no matter what.”
As a sophomore, Wright has quietly had his imprints all over Vanderbilt’s season.
While his fellow second-years Pippen Jr. and Disu get most of the attention, Wright has steadily contributed across basically every major statistical category. He currently ranks third on the team in both scoring and steals, and second in rebounds and assists.
“Being versatile is really what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Wright says. “I think that’s what Coach Stack likes about me and where I bring value to this team. I like to just do a little bit of everything and do what I can to help this team win.”
Even after a tough, close loss to Georgia on the road, Stackhouse still took time to compliment Wright’s tenacity, specifically on the defensive end, when he spoke on ESPN’s The Commodore Hour on Feb. 8.
“He’s probably one of the few guys that we can just say individually, defensively, can guard his man,” Stackhouse said of Wright. “He’s the most amazing competitor.”
Perhaps most notable, however, is Wright’s improvement as a three-point shooter.
This season, he’s shooting 11-of-22 from beyond the arc, an impressive 50% albeit on a very small volume. And while 11 three-point makes isn’t usually something that jumps off the page, it is when you consider the fact that Wright shot just 15% from deep in his freshman year. His emergence as a capable three-point threat has been instrumental in allowing Vanderbilt to space the floor and get up more threes this season.
So, how does one go from shooting 8-of-53 from long-range one year to making half of his three-point attempts the next?
For Wright, it was a summer spent working out with a couple of accomplished three-point shooters: Langston Galloway and Skylar Mays.
Galloway, who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns, is a 37% three-point shooter over his nine-year NBA career. Mays graduated from LSU in 2020 and ended his illustrious four years there with an impressive senior season in which he averaged 16.7 points per game.
According to Wright, the three of them were in the gym getting up shots twice a day every day, and that experience has paid dividends this year.
“Just learning from really good shooters,” Wright said of his summer spent with the two Baton Rouge natives. “Langston’s one of the best corner three-point shooters in the [NBA]. Skylar was a 40% three-point shooter his season year [at LSU]. Just being with those guys, learning from them and soaking up as much as I can has really helped me.”
The summer work has contributed to a more confident version of Wright, which has led to an increased role for the sophomore.
As his production has steadily grown, Wright has found himself in the starting lineup for the past eight games. His increased role comes as no surprise to his high school coach.
“I think ultimately, he was fighting for minutes, fighting for a position, and eventually the coaching staff looked at it and said ‘we can’t keep this guy off the floor,’ which I knew was going to happen,” Pixley says.
Every team needs that guy who brings defense, toughness and grit every game no matter what else is happening on the court. And luckily for Commodore coaches and fans alike, Vanderbilt has that guy in Jordan Wright.