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From Zero-Star to All-Star in 4 Years

The following story appeared originally in the Winter issue of Everyday Champions magazine. See the full magazine here.

 

By Stan Awtrey

From the moment he was born, Moses Wright has been surprising people.

It started when his mother Calla saw her baby boy for the first time in the hospital. He was a big baby – 23 inches long – and she noticed immediately that this was going to be a tall kid. His fingers were long. His toes were long. His legs were long. And as he grew and she took him to the pediatrician for regular checkups, she was told that young Moses was always in the 100 percentile – or more – for his age.

Surprising? Calla is only 5-foot-9 and her late husband Gerald was only 6-foot-1.

Those were the first baby steps taken by Moses Wright in his journey that eventually brought him to The Flats. He arrived, an unheralded zero-star recruit – certainly without blue-chip credentials. But in four years, Wright has emerged as the poster child for the program’s player development. Once a longshot to make it – he would probably have been a 99-to-1 pick at the track — Wright has worked his way into becoming one of the top players in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The NBA is a legitimate possibility.

It’s just surprising how he got there.

Calla Wright was an educator – she still is – and wanted to raise her son to be a well-rounded young man. She stressed academics – and the emphasis on math and science really paid off once Moses enrolled at Georgia Tech. He was an honor student and earned the prestigious Blue Chip academic designation for being in the upper 90 percent of his class.

As a music instructor, she made sure that subject was a big part of the equation, and Moses became a member of the school’s band. He played the upright bass and took to the instrument quite naturally. She recently found a fun video of the group performing the “SpongeBob SquarePants” theme song and laughed about how happy it made him.

When it came to athletics, she directed him toward swimming and tennis.

“He was so tall and I thought it would be an advantage in swimming and tennis,” Calla Wright said.

Moses was good at both. He participated in competitive swim meets in a variety of strokes. He worked his way up the competitive USTA tennis ladder and earned a state ranking at one point. Wright said he enjoyed both sports, but grew weary of giving up his weekends to compete in swim meets and tennis tournaments. And those tennis courts can get pretty toasty in the hot, humid North Carolina summers.

“I liked swimming and tennis,” Moses said. “They just sort of ran their course.”

He really wanted to play basketball. Made sense. He was tall and was getting taller. All his friends played, too. And one afternoon, following swim practice at the YMCA, Mrs. Wright learned that her son had made the basketball team at the Y.

“I had just paid the money for the swim team, and he comes and tells me they put him on the team,” Calla Wright said. “He said, ‘I’m on the basketball team and the coach wants to talk to you.’”

Moses Wright has become only the second Georgia Tech player to ever win the ACC Player of the Year award, the other being Dennis Scott in 1990. Moses Wright led the Yellow Jackets to a 15-8 (11-6) record and the fourth seed in the 2021 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. Wright ranked third in the ACC in points per game, rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game, and field goal percentage. He also ranked in the top 10 of the ACC in blocks per game, steals per game, and minutes per game. Check out some highlights from Moses Wright's incredible 2020-21 season.

So after repeated requests and pleas, she relented and allowed her son to play basketball. There was just one condition: He couldn’t play on the high school team until he had a firm grasp of basketball basics and fundamentals. Only then could he compete in games.

“I knew he needed some intense skill development before he could play,” she said. “I knew he didn’t need to be on a team until he learned the game. I decided to get him a trainer so he could learn the skills he needed.”

That’s when she found Gawon “Coach G” Hymen, who operates Hymen Pro Fitness, a player-development program near the Wrights’ home that’s affiliated with the Garner Road AAU Basketball Club. He began working with Wright to get him game-ready.

“I told his mother, we’ve got to get him in the gym,” Hymen said. “We started with his footwork and trying to get his shot right.”

It wasn’t easy. Although Wright had natural gifts, he was far behind the learning curve. Sometimes he and Coach G would get together three times a day for workouts. Occasionally they would practice at 9 p.m.

“There was a time that Moses didn’t like me very much,” Hymen said. “He might want to go out hang out with his friends and I said, ‘No, you’ve got to get in the gym.’”

Moses focused on improving his shooting range from 17 feet and began to develop a hook shot that has become a go-to weapon. Coach G arranged for him to work out against former NBA player David West and always had him scrimmaging against bigger guys. He didn’t make it easy.

Wright was making steady progress, but still wasn’t ready for the rigors of the high school league. So Hymen found a local homeschool team that played a competitive schedule and enrolled his pupil, now a junior, in the program. It was a solid proving ground and helped provide Wright some much-needed self-assurance.

“It gave me a lot of confidence to go out there and put everything in a real game scenario,” Moses said. “It was eye-opening that I could do what I had been working on and could do it well. All the hard work I’d put in was worth it.”

 

Wright’s season averages of 18.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game have been duplicated by only seven Division I players since the 1992-93 season. (photo by Danny Karnik)

 

 

The moment of truth came his senior season at Enloe High School. Wright made the varsity team and wore No. 5 on his 6-foot-8, 180-pound frame. The Eagles lost that game to Jordan High of Durham, but Coach G remembers Wright opening eyes with a double-double performance. It was another instance of Wright surprising a lot of people, at least those not within his inner circle.

“My AAU teammates knew who I was,” he said. “I came back and they said, ‘Wow, this is awesome how you’ve changed who you are.’ They were excited for me and knew how good I could be. When we played other schools, some people were surprised, but my AAU teammates who played for other schools … they weren’t surprised when I’d have 18 (points) and 10 (rebounds).”

Hymen said the biggest showdown came when Enloe played Heritage, a Wake Forest team that featured current East Carolina standout Jayden Gardner, who led the American Athletic Conference in scoring last season. Enloe lost both contests and Gardner lived up to his billing, but Wright proved he could play with the area’s best.

“I loved going against them, because they could match my size,” he said. “It brought out the best in me.”

Coach G said, “He showed it all … 3-points, scoring off the dribble, dunking. He gave everything he had. From that point he wasn’t a secret anymore.”

Wright soon began getting nibbles from college coaches. Most players are well-known commodities by their senior season, but Wright was still an unknown quantity. He had yet to accumulate miles of tape that coaches use to base their decision.

That changed when former Georgia Tech coaches got their first glimpse of Wright.

“Next thing you know he talked to Josh Pastner and that was it,” said Hymen. “He didn’t want to go nowhere else.”

At first Wright didn’t know what to think. The whole recruiting process was a new deal to him.

“Coach G said to be on the lookout for a call from them,” Wright said. “Honestly, I wasn’t that deep into basketball yet, so when Georgia Tech called, I didn’t really know who Georgia Tech was. So I did some research and realized it could be a good opportunity for me, for my education and for basketball.”

Tennis, swimming and music occupied Wright’s interests before he tried out for he tried out for the basketball team at the local YMCA.

 

On his visit to Atlanta, Wright was captivated by everything the school and the basketball program had to offer. He called and told his mother that he wanted to play basketball at Georgia Tech.

“I was so happy,” Calla Wright said. “He was so excited when he first called, and Moses is so laid-back. He doesn’t get real excited. So, I reached out to them to make sure he had the SAT scores and to find out what we needed to do, because I was so excited, too.

“Then I met Coach Pastner and told him, ‘I’m bringing Moses to you.’ And I’ve been so pleased with the nurturing, the support. He was still in development as a young man and the support system he needed was there.”

Wright reported to school as a freshman – where he met teammates Jose Alvarado and Malachi Rice the first day – and learned his way around campus. It wouldn’t be long before he was traveling halfway around the world to play a game in China against UCLA.

It didn’t take Wright very long to realize that he still had miles to go in the progression toward becoming a contributor. He remembers playing Tennessee as a freshman and said, “I felt kind of weak out there. It was the first time I’d felt weak playing basketball. It was a wake-up.”

Wright wound up playing a lot of minutes toward the end of his freshman year, as injuries cut through the roster. He averaged a modest 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds. He continued to improve and contributed significant minutes by the end of his sophomore season. He averaged 6.7 points and 3.7 rebounds and gave a clue about the future when he scored 25 points in the ACC Tournament loss to a veteran Notre Dame team. The numbers kept getting better his junior year. Wright averaged 13 points and 6.9 rebounds and was considered one of the most improved players in the league.

Wright is the 21st player in Georgia Tech history to score more than 1,000 points and grab more than 500 rebounds. (photo by Danny Karnik)

 

His senior season started in spectacular fashion. He had 31 points and 19 rebounds in the season-opening loss to Georgia State and put up 21 points and seven rebounds against the blue-bloods of Kentucky. And while his scoring was down against North Carolina (only eight points), Wright had six rebounds and five steals in the come-from-behind win. For most of December, the no-star kid from Raleigh was leading the ACC in scoring.

“I don’t really look at the numbers,” he said. “The only time I look at them is if we lose. Josh Okogie (former teammate and current NBA guard) told me not to get so caught up in what you’re doing, get caught up in what the team is doing. So, when we win, I don’t look at the numbers, because I feel like everybody did what they needed to do. If we lose, I look at the numbers and the film to see where we went wrong.”

Meanwhile, his support group still comes around. His brother, Robert, takes in a game when the opportunity arises. Coach G was in the stands for the four-overtime game against Georgia State.

And Calla Wright was at McCamish Pavilion for the North Carolina game, trying her best to hide the nerves. After all, that’s her little boy on the court, still delivering surprises to this day.

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