Wright Wraps Up Stellar Career For Buffaloes
INDIANAPOLIS — A career that began with a call from a coach McKinley Wright IV had never met came to a poignant end Monday night with a long, heartfelt hug between the two.
Wright, who rewrote the Colorado record books in his four years in Boulder, played his final game in a Buffaloes uniform in a 71-53 loss to Florida State in the NCAA Tournament second round.
CU coach Tad Boyle, whose last-minute recruitment of Wright four years ago changed the course of Colorado basketball, removed his star player from the game in the waning minutes. The two then shared a long embrace on the sidelines, a moment captured by television cameras for the nation.
After the game, an emotional Boyle couldn't contain the tears.
"I told him I loved him, because I do," Boyle said. " The kid's special. What he's been through to get to the University of Colorado and what he's given to the program the last four years … the player is supposed to be crying, not the coach, but there were tears in my eyes like there are now. He's a special young man. All seven of our seniors are special. But he's given so much to this program from the time he stepped on campus, and I really, really appreciate him. He knows that and I told him that."
Wright's last game as a Buff certainly didn't end the way he envisioned. Surrounded by FSU defenders every time he touched the ball, he finished with 10 points, just one assist and an uncharacteristic five turnovers.
But the only numbers that mattered — the only numbers that have ever mattered to Wright — were those on the scoreboard.
"This hurts," Wright said. "I'm trying to hold back my tears again right now. I gave this university everything I had for four years. I tried my best to win as many games as possible. That's all I care about is winning. I don't care about stats. You know, my recruiting class, we didn't care about stats. We just wanted to come in and win, and we created that bond, that love for each other."
Wright was part of a recruiting class that also included Tyler Bey (now with the Dallas Mavericks), D'Shawn Schwartz and Evan Battey. They appeared in one NCAA Tournament — it would have been two last year had the covid pandemic not canceled the postseason — and won 23, 21 and 23 games their last three years.
Monday was the last time they would suit up on the same team.
"It hurts," Wright said. "Not necessarily the loss we took tonight, just the fact that I'm done. I just played my last game here at CU. I'll never get to play with this group of guys again, and especially my recruiting class. We created so many memories over my four years … I'm sorry. I gave Colorado everything I had in me. It hurts to go out like this."
Wright finished his career as the only player in Pac-12 history to finish with 1,800 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists. He is one of three Buffs — joining Richard Roby and Donnie Boyce — to rank in the top 20 in CU history in scoring (1,857), rebounds (644), assists (683) and steals (140), and his assist total is the best in Colorado history.
He is also second on CU's all-time list in minutes played (4,339) and tied for second in games started (130).
But all those numbers have never been important to Wright. After contemplating a move to the professional ranks last summer, he returned to CU to help his team earn that elusive NCAA berth.
"The thing I'm most proud of — every win we got, building relationships with my brothers," Wright said. "I keep saying this: I don't care about individual stats. I've built lifelong relationships with these dudes. Some people, after college, they stop talking to their teammates. We were just talking about it in the locker room, I want to be in all the group chats, Instagram, Twitter. I love every one of these guys, one through 18. We built some lifelong relationships. And that's what I'm proud of, building relationships. I've made some of my best friends here at Colorado."
Wright came to Boulder from a tough neighborhood in Minneapolis. His father served time in prison on drug charges.
But he found another home in Boulder and CU fans quickly embraced him when he became a starter from Day One.
"I'm so thankful for Colorado for welcoming me, a small, six-foot skinny point guard from Minneapolis," Wright said. "This university changed my life. I got to the point where I wasn't going home just to avoid any trouble, trying to stay away from my neighborhood, avoid any type of conflict. My teammates, they were real brothers to me. They made me comfortable to the point where I didn't have to go back to Minneapolis. I could just stay here and focus on my craft."
He also built what will no doubt be a lifelong relationship with Boyle, the coach who recruited him at the last minute four years ago when the Buffs needed another point guard.
Wright had originally committed to Dayton. But when Dayton's coach left for another job, Wright began the search — and CU assistant coaches told Boyle about a possible recruit who might fill their need. Boyle was on vacation at the time, but called Wright. The two set up a meeting and Boyle flew to Minneapolis to meet Wright and his family.
"Coach Boyle cares about everybody on the team outside of basketball," Wright said. "He wants the best for us, and he wants us to succeed in life. He's meant a lot for me. He always preaches to me to get my degree because one day the ball is going to stop bouncing, and to create relationships with people, with big-time people, because there are going to be jobs for me when I'm done playing ball."
Wright also found out just recently that his grandmother and Boyle text each other after every game.
"He truly cares about me and my family," Wright said. "He's meant so much more to me, more than I can put in words. He's done a lot for me, and so I'm just so thankful for him."
Boyle has called Wright a "once in a lifetime player" to coach.
"He's given everything he's gotten, and I could count on one hand, how many bad practices he's had and still have fingers left over," Boyle said. "He's an everyday guy that competes hard. He prepares himself in the off-season. He has gotten his teammates better. McKinley has not just made his own game better from his freshman year to his senior year and improved every single year, but he's made his teammates better. I always say the biggest compliment you can give your best player is if he's a great teammate. You can say that about McKinley Wright."