on July 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Hornets’ rookie gets first taste of life as a pro in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Never mind the disappointment of falling from a projected top-10 pick in the NBA draft and still being around when the New Orleans Hornets picked 13th.

Julian Wright is happy lived past the age of 10.

The Chicago native nearly drowned in a swimming pool as a child. He had to be revived after being pulled from the water unconscious by a relative. The story made a local newspaper and Wright still has the clipping chronicling the horrific moment he reflects upon every time he reaches a milestone in his life, whether it be high school graduation or his new status as a pro athlete and millionaire-to-be.

“I kind of just thought about how far I’ve come as a person,” Wright said Friday, when the Hornets introduced their latest first-round pick to a crowd of jubilant children at an inner city YMCA.

“I’d be a fool to like, not be grateful, playing basketball and just being a positive influence, things like that,” Wright said. “When things like that happen in life, it kind of gives you a different perspective. I think that’s what’s helped me in terms of being a little more mature than maybe most rookies would. Nothing’s promised. You’ve got to make the most of your abilities and talents when you’re able to.”

As for Wright’s path to the NBA, that began well before he was 10. His mother, Gina Wright, recalled how the youngest of her two sons littered their home with makeshift balls made from bunched up socks or tinfoil.

Wright’s father, Paul Vinson, had played basketball in college at the Illinois Institute of Technology, so Wright had someone to learn from at an early age and was a standout by his freshman year in high school.

He comes to the Hornets having averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season for Kansas.

While those numbers are hardly extraordinary, Wright’s court sense, 6-foot-8 frame, ball-handling and passing ability give him tremendous potential to develop into an NBA star, said Hornets general manager Jeff Bower and coach Byron Scott.

“You’re talking about a 6-8 guy who’s extremely athletic, that can play multiple positions and defend multiple positions _ very unselfish,” Scott said. “The only downside with Julian is his shooting. … Obviously, we’re going to work with his shot and make it better.”

Wright said he is thrilled to come to New Orleans for professional and personal reasons. He’s eager to play with point guard Chris Paul and a team that, if healthy, should contend for the playoffs next season. He also cherishes the chance to play a role in the rebuilding of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

“I’ve always followed what’s happened with Hurricane Katrina and I’ve really been sympathetic,” Wright said to the crowd that welcomed him. “Now I feel like I can really become a part of it and become a positive influence in the community.”

Wright, who was in New York for the draft Thursday night, flew into New Orleans on Friday morning with his agent, mother and brother. Team officials picked them up in a limousine and took them to Dickie Brennan’s steak house in the French Quarter for lunch, then to the team’s headquarters in a downtown high rise before the appearance at a YMCA gymnasium that had been damaged by fire before Katrina and rebuilt since.

The locally popular Rebirth Brass Band played “Georgia Brown,” the Harlem Globetrotters adopted anthem, while Wright entered the gym to the screams of children lining the entrance and extending their hands for high fives.

The rookie was headed back home to Chicago on Friday night and soon will head to Las Vegas for the NBA’s summer league.

Gina Wright, who raised her two boys as a single mother while working her way up to management positions in marketing and graphic design, said she will move to New Orleans with both of her sons.

“He’s my baby,” she said.

Player and mother were beaming as they mingled with the crowd, and Gina Wright found it fitting that her son had mentioned his near death while reflecting on his path to the NBA.

“It was horrible in terms of what could have happened, but it was a miracle when you look at what didn’t happen,” she said. “We look at the miracle aspect of it.”