Julian Wright wants to make sure that versatile players like him get the attention they deserve
Julian Wright recently turned 33. In some cases, this is the age at which a center reaches its peak as a player. Not the case for the former Kansas star, who later became a first-round NBA draft pick.
The coronavirus pandemic, which initially conquered China before spreading around the world, essentially eliminated Wright’s desire to remain active. After that, there was no more basketball, which is true until this date, since the Euroleague season has been canceled and the balls in the NBA will only rebound at best in mid-June.
Talent and versatility were some of Julian’s traits that made him play at the highest level, if not consistently and not for the long term. During a brilliant two-year college career at the University of Kansas under coach Bill Self and together with future NBA champions Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush, the Illinois native won many awards, even without scoring too many points.
His general presence enabled him to be selected with the 13th election in the 2007 New Orleans Hornets NBA draft. When Wright ended his rookie NBA season with an average of 3.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, Kansas had already celebrated the NCAA title without him. Because of his performance, his second season in New Orleans was his best of the three he was allowed to play there.
After an overwhelming year in Toronto, Wright won his first title in 2012: the NBA D-League Championship with the Austin Toros. An NBA comeback wasn’t on the program, but another career path had opened up for him overseas. Israel, Russia, Greece, Italy, Turkey and France were his next destinations. His stay in Paris was characterized by the struggle with the management of the local team, and that was the last time Europe saw him. In the summer of 2019, Wright participated in the Ice Cube 3v3 BIG3 League with some of his former teammates from Kansas.
However, its current main company is A.D.A.P.T. Basketball, a Charlotte-based player development company that is designed to provide minors and adults with the tools to develop and develop their talent: training, training, assessment and counseling, target practice and online courses are some of the methods used, despite the restrictions imposed through the pandemic.
In this two-part interview with TalkBasket.net, Julian Wright talks about his career in the United States and overseas. It all started with the choice of Kansas, his “first decision for adults,” as he calls it. He refers to his teammates, remembers how difficult it was to contain Kevin Durant, and explains why he is not an advocate of the college sports system. Wright also tells of his days in the NBA and what happened in a Toronto Raptors game that marked his presence in the league and signaled the beginning of the end for him.
Above all, the 33-year-old retired player who became an entrepreneur analyzes what it means to be a versatile player in modern basketball. Wright’s job has always been to play different positions for different coaches in sometimes diametrically opposite styles and to respond to the demands. In this regard, and based on his personal experience as a professional athlete, “ADAPT” can be the key to opening many doors.
This is Julian Wright, Vol.1!
Q: First of all, I want you to confirm your status. Have you officially withdrawn from professional basketball?
A: Yes, I officially retired from five-on-five basketball. I am still looking forward to 3-on-3 professional basketball since I played 3 in the BIG. Ice Cube is one of the main founders and many NBA and international players are there. You want to expand on a global level. I thought it would be a great way to stay in shape, motivated and asserting myself.
Q: What were the reasons for this decision? You said that many people are retiring. Does that mean that everything is possible?
A: It could be because my season has been shortened this year. I was in China and they gave me a couple of weeks to get in shape because I hadn’t played since February 2019. Then the corona virus started. In the back of my mind, I’ve retired because I’m ready to move on to my next station, which is supposed to be an entrepreneur. I want to give something back to the game while I still have a healthy body. I am only 33 years old. Often players with expertise and great basketball minds play beyond their limits and cannot demonstrate to others due to injuries. I think I’ve had a great career for 13 years. I enjoyed every one of them.
Q: In the summer of 2019, when you were playing in the BIG 3, you said your goal was to show the NBA managers that you were a capable player and added that you were not planning to go overseas again . Do you want to prove yourself? Why did you exclude the option abroad?
A: There was a lot of traveling with my family. We have three children. I played abroad for almost ten years and have nothing to prove there. However, participating in BIG 3 shows that I still have the talent and respect of my colleagues. I am beyond the idea that I should have stayed in the NBA.
Q: You recently entered the player development business. Why do you have the acronym “A.D.A.P.T.” elected, which stands for “athlete development and all-purpose training”?
A: I started the business in February 2019 after returning from France in the middle of the season. Back then I didn’t think I was retired at all, but in the back of my mind I asked myself, “What can I do after basketball that I enjoy?” I no longer wanted to train and travel professionally. I have reached many people in Charlotte and around the world. It has to do with how I was developed by trainers. I played for a Hall of Fame trainer in the state of Illinois, for another HOFamer in Bill Self in Kansas and for some tough trainers in the NBA and overseas. I trained with Tim Grover, who comes from Chicago and is best known as the coach of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. I learned a lot as a player. Now I’m working on athletic achievements, which are the development of athletes, and many skills that allow players to get better.
Q: Do you think the NBA game gives general-purpose players the opportunity to show off their talents? I get the impression that most coaches ask their players to only be good at one or two things, unless they’re superstars like Doncic, Jokic, LeBron, etc.
A: Instead of Doncic, I would throw Giannis Antetokounmpo in there. It’s interesting because I’ve seen the game evolve as well. I think coaches had no eye for these types of players. Now coaches welcome all-purpose players. If you were 6’7 ” and a good rebounder, you would be called a tweener. Now you have players playing different positions and you don’t know what they will do in attack or defense. Not all superstars are all-purpose stars. They only do a few things really well. It is more important for managers and coaches to get the job done to find the all-purpose players who can complement a superstar.
Q: Did you see the Bulls playing in Chicago as a kid? What do you think of the “Last Dance”?
A: I think it’s raw. It’s a lot of emotions like everything happened yesterday. I really enjoyed showing people’s initial reactions to what they read or saw. I was only ten when the bulls won their sixth championship and I didn’t understand the management of superstars like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. I learned a lot about sports management to deal with the ego. Even if there was a lot going on in the locker room and behind the scenes, they were all professional and did what they had to do to win these championships.
Q: How did Bill Self persuade you to come to Kansas after all communication between you and college broke down?
A: He was actually at the University of Illinois before I went to Kansas. I was already familiar with him. I had an operation and one of the assistant coaches who recruited me got a job as head coach. It was bad timing. I had a good junior year and became a top 10 player in the nation. Over time, I really had to think about what’s most important. I can’t whistle and my mother urged me to sit down and speak to them. I had my heart softened when they told me what happened and I thought I couldn’t let pride prevent me from playing for Coach Self. It was my first adult decision that would affect my whole life.
Q: Have you heard the news that Bill Self and his assistant Curtis Townsend have been accused of illegally recruiting?
A: I heard about the investigation, but I don’t know what happened. It is unfortunate.
Q: How difficult was it for you to maintain the Kansas success story?
A: I came in as a newcomer and we had a young team. There was a lot of forbearance because I, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush, were also some aspiring players. I didn’t feel that much pressure because I was among other people who worked hard. I didn’t know what pressure really was. I was asked to play. In my second year I thought: “Now we have a whole year to go. We have to do something. “We got a win from the Final Four and then I went to the NBA.
Q: If you had stayed with Kansas afterwards, you would have won the NCAA title. Do you ever think about it
A: One of my reasons to leave was that I thought they would win anyway. We had a really talented team. If I had stayed, I would have had the same statistics and would have played the same way. I switched from Point Guard to Power Forward in college and didn’t think I would be able to play any of these positions that are being worked out. So I decided to leave my second year before people said I didn’t shoot many three points or that I wasn’t a good ball handler. It was another adult decision because I thought my statistics had dropped significantly. If I were five years younger it would have been different. Many talented athletes who go to college try to buy into team and school culture. It is important that players seen by NBA teams think differently.
Question: “How did you feel when Mario Chalmers hit the three-pointer in the last game against Memphis to force overtime?” They were in the front row.
A: It was a great feeling. I could be there for that moment. When he raised his hand, I knew it was going in. He said that too. You have to have some kind of self-confidence. I had a couple of coaches telling me not to contest shots, but maybe trying to speed up an opponent’s shot. After working overtime, they ran out of energy and two of their players were fouled. It was a good experience and I am thankful that I was there. You were top notch. They let me come into the locker room in the hotel.
Q: It’s a pretty normal question: Were you NBA-enabled in 2007 after two years with Kansas?
A: Yes, I felt NBA ready. I had a lot of skills that I couldn’t show. I did my training well, but I showed that I was a bit rusty as a perimeter player. It was just a learning curve.
Q: I have read one Article on Bleacher Report about the stories and background of a game between Kansas and Texas for the 2006/07 season. The focus was on preparing to face Kevin Durant and some of your ex-teammates, including Darrell Arthur, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, and Brandon Rush. Chalmers in particular described his reaction when he listened to Bill Self telling you to protect Durant. He said you are a great defender, but added that sometimes you get lazy. Durant also spoke and said you started with him, but later Kansas moved to Rush and Jackson. KD ended the game with 32 points, only 7 of them in the second half. They had 17 points and 13 rebounds and sealed the win for Kansas with a free throw and a block. What’s your story from that day How did you experience it
A: It was a big game for us. We knew how great Kevin Durant was already playing. It’s so funny to see how his career makes sense and what a talented scorer he still is. I played some of the best defenses I could have played against him and he scored 8 points on me and then we started switching. It didn’t matter who was guarding him. A photo of me showed up like he was fucking his hand up. I was all in his face and he shot! Coach Self is a motivator and he knew I took my job as a guard seriously. But sometimes with great scorers you just have to try to look different. You can catch and uncover every little habit. Without his ankle injury, he would have scored 50 points that night. He kept them in the game, but we still played well as a team. The next time we played Texas we beat her and Durant was healthy.
Q: Did you stay in touch with Durant?
A: It’s been a while since I saw him. I lived in Los Angeles for a while. The last time we spoke was in 2014, but I know his parents. We played against each other in high school. I just haven’t been with him in the past five or six years.
Q: Chalmers and Brandon Rush have won three NBA titles together over a period of seven years. Did you keep pace with what you were doing and did you expect them – especially Chalmers, a second-round goal at # 34 – to reach such heights?
A: I think so. There is something in the pedigree of the University of Kansas: they are well trained, balanced, disciplined and winners. It made sense that they put their trust in winning championships in their NBA careers. Regardless of your choice, management does the best to draw different guards. [Chalmers] Being selected at 34 does not mean that he is not a capable player in the NBA. He and Rush knew that if they got a chance, they could influence any team in the NBA.
Q: Paul Pierce selected Chalmers, Manning, Embiid, and Chamberlain for his All-Kansas team. What are your tips?
A: Haha! I saw that, it’s good! I would say: Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Paul Pierce, Aaron Miles and Mario Chalmers. That was hard! I didn’t try to do anything other than Pierce. I just thought those were the top 5.
Q: How do you explain that apart from you, many Kansas players (Aaron Miles, Keith Langford, Thomas Robinson, Chalmers, and Rush more recently) have landed in Europe?
A: It has to do with the NBA. It is difficult to make it and stay there. I think more players went overseas and played there. It’s great to say you played in the NBA, but if your job is a basketball player, that should be the main thing. Playing in Europe or Asia shouldn’t be a disappointment. It is an opportunity. Basketball is a global sport and people should look at the possibilities and keep playing even if it’s not in the NBA.
Q: How do you see the college basketball system and how is it set up? Some say it is exploitative and benefits from unpaid talents that make many other people rich, while others claim that the experience can be beneficial (academic, social, and competitive).
A: I am not a big fan of the NCAA system and university sports. In college basketball and soccer, they know where the money is. The times have changed. Even with social media, people can get their own following. Anyone who works for a company should be able to negotiate its value. Something should change, maybe some kind of regulation. Even the NBA has a cap. Nowadays, since the G League allows players to come straight from high school, I think the NCAA will be professional.
I had no life on campus. We were busy, doing two exercises a day and traveling. I saw it as a job but was not paid. The NCAA should deal with social events such as autograph signing and ensure that players receive a percentage. People are still following the NCAA just to hope their school wins. With regard to money, however, it is in the NCAA’s interest to consider this aspect. Many good players have started going overseas, like LaMelo Ball, or the G League, like Jaylen Green.
Q: The New Orleans Hornets went through the era of Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and now Zion Williamson. What are the main characteristics of everyone and how will Zion respond to the challenge of being a leader?
A: Chris Paul did a lot for this city and offered hope and relief at a time when the 2005 hurricane moved the team to Oklahoma City. He gave constant consolation to other players due to the culture he created and the fact that he was a franchise player. When Anthony Davis was drafted, everyone thought he was doing the right thing to stay there and be a leader. But it’s about business.
Zion is in a great situation. Anthony Davis, who loses to the Warriors in the play-offs and cannot get on (2018), should not make anyone angry with the organization or the city. Players want to measure themselves and get the most out of their careers. If someone is that good and has the potential to promote a team to the NBA championship, they should put themselves in the best possible situation. I don’t think Zion will be under so much pressure. It’s like in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. They are a young team and as long as they keep playing, they will do well.
Q: Do you think the incident with Raptors coach Jay Triano during a Golden State Warriors game when you refused to play in the trash time irreparably affected your chances of finding another NBA contract?
A: I think it had a big deal to do with it, but mostly I haven’t had the opportunity to show what I can do in my four years in the NBA. It happened at the end of my contract year. I didn’t feel so good, I was a little frustrated. I had no opportunity to sit down and talk to the trainer. I went into the locker room and came back before anything happened. At that time, there was no norm in using social media to tell your side of the story. I was fined, but my agent could easily have informed the teams of what happened so that they could make their own decision. I played about 15 minutes per game and couldn’t show my skills. I see it as a tool that could help other players deal with similar things in their careers.
Q: Your decision not to seek a contract abroad during the 2011 lockout was because you wanted to support your colleagues as a player representative, or was it due to your desire to stay in the NBA?
A: It was a bit of both. I also didn’t have much overseas knowledge. I read that Deron Williams went to Turkey. I didn’t want to sign a buyout issue contract. I just thought it was safer to stay in the US hoping to get some workouts as a free agent.
Q: Even though you won the G League with the Austin Toros in 2012, you never made an NBA comeback. Which factors played the biggest role? How about a comeback in 2017 when you played with Utah in the Summer League?
A: In 2012 the season was short. I was in good shape and played well. There were many players on our team who were called up. When I joined the team, I was almost at the end of the drafting period. It was good to win the championship. I wanted to play the Summer League with the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. At that point, I was reconstructing my shot with the help of Austin Toros staff. I had some problems with my shin splints and had no chance with the Brooklyn Nets. It was a big setback because I felt safe, but it took me overseas when I got well.
Q: Do you think tall men who cannot shoot well from a distance are not popular in the league?
A: I think they’re not popular during the regular season when the teams don’t scout as much, but they’re popular in the play-offs where you need rebound and toughness. There will still be room for players who don’t shoot too much from the outside, but have size, size and strength. In the playoffs, the teams tend to get bigger on the pitch.
Q: You played the point guard position in high school, became a point and power forward at college and at a center in Europe. Where did you feel most comfortable and what adjustments did you make to meet the requirements?
A: I most effectively played Power Forward or Center overseas because I defended myself against people taller than me. I turned on guards in the last seconds of the offense. Was able to be effective on both sides, attack, run the ground, ricochet off, go from coast to coast or dive in or pass the ball on. Even though I was the center, I curled up to help the team.
Q: Do you think your qualities as a player could? translate better in Europe than in the States?
A: I actually think I could be ideal in the NBA. The game is more open without the defense being in color for more than three seconds. It has always been my style of play. It took me 10-12 years, but I got to a point where I had a fairly solid shot percentage in France before returning to the US. I feel like if I were still playing it would be easier to score in the NBA. It is more difficult in Europe.
Q: If you gave your career a title, what would it be?
A: I say one word: undervalued. This does not mean that I have had a bad career in my own eyes or that I do not appreciate my career and everything that I have achieved. Now coaches can see the value of a player playing multiple positions and doing different things. I also feel that during my career I was put in boxes that I was too big for. I’m not saying that I could have been a superstar or something, but I haven’t been able to show how much I can do based on what I’ve been given. I have tried to do enough to be effective.
Some people play for three years in the NBA and cannot get another job there. I could play continuously and enjoy my career. But even in Europe, when it comes to signing players, you think teams would watch movies. I feel like they often thought I would do something no matter where they would take me, but no trainer ever told me, “We have this in mind for you because we know all the skills you have . ” Overall, my career was as it should be. It wasn’t easy to jump around in different positions and be asked to produce. So I got to the point where I said that every game is like a new day. The challenge for me now is to build coaching clinics and to encourage coaches to hug players who are like me.