Wright steps up in Slovakia

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Professional basketball player Nick Wright signs an autograph for a young fan while playing overseas in Slovakia.

Professional basketball player Nick Wright signs an autograph for a young fan while playing overseas in Slovakia. (Strba photo)

Former Nansemond River High School and Old Dominion University standout Nick Wright has used hard work and lessons learned to elevate his game at the professional level in a foreign land.

After college graduation, Wright was not sure he would be able to play at the next level. He had been a leader for the Monarchs, but his numbers were relatively low.

“In college, I only averaged six (points) and four (rebounds),” he said. But he did not give up. “I kept working out, kept working hard.”

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Warriors head coach Ed Young encouraged him to make the effort, knowing if his former player did not, he would probably always ask himself “What if?”

Young knew Wright’s statistics were not high, but the coach said, “I saw guys with similar numbers get contracts overseas.”

He said Wright’s size and personality gave him a chance. “I really thought he had a good shot,” Young said.

Wright signed an agent who helped market his skills, and he received a contract in August with a Slovakian team after the team saw video of his abilities from his time with Old Dominion.

Through about 17 games with the team known as Levice Patrioti, Wright has averaged 12.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Young said when he heard the stats. “I thought his numbers could go up.”

Young said the national basketball league Wright plays in is like a third-tier league in the context of European basketball. Seeing what Wright has done in it, Young said, “I think he can move up.”

For Wright, excelling as a pro in Slovakia is an extension of what he’s learned through the years.

“I went over there with the lessons that were taught me,” he said. He credited teachers of those lessons like Coach Young, former ODU coach Blaine Taylor and Amateur Athletic Union coaches for enabling him to adjust better than many to what was required of him overseas.

“By doing that, I ended up being successful on the court,” he said.

The competition is bigger and faster than in college, with a different style of play, but there were several other obstacles Wright had to overcome, as well. Prior to this year, he had spent very little time outside of the United States.

While home recuperating from a broken bone in his hand, he reflected on the Slovakian living experience he aims to return to in February.

“One thing I learned, everything is different over there,” he said. For example, conversion skills with numbers became important, because Slovakia uses the metric system, rather than English units.

And Wright described the language barrier as “kind of a big deal.”

In Eastern Europe, “English is not one of the main things that’s going on,” he said. “There were only a few people in the city that could speak good English.”

Using context clues became important, and Wright discovered a lot of basketball talk is almost universal. Additionally, Levice Patrioti’s coach, Lutovsky Ladislav, speaks some English, but he, Wright and the other American players on the team are aided by a Slovakian translator who went to school in America.

For Wright, life as a pro has been a growing experience, both on and off the court.

“As I went on to learn new things, my living experience became a whole lot better,” he said.

The team has struggled with a 3-16 record so far, but Wright said team officials knew this would be a rebuilding year. The average age of players on the roster is only 21.

Nevertheless, Wright said, “We were having the tendency to get better as we went on.”

The injury to his shooting hand, sustained on Nov. 27, is not season-ending, and he can start rehab today.

Wright recalled how, as a child, he wanted to grow up to be a professional basketball player. “You can achieve your dreams if you just work hard for them,” he said.