Much has been written and said about All-ACC guard Monica Wright, who played her final home game and whose jersey was retired Sunday, but the most meaningful to me came from her mentor and friend, coach Debbie Ryan.
"She's taught everyone here about what character really is," Ryan said. "If you were to paint a picture of a basketball player, you would paint Monica Wright because she just has all the right stuff."\nThat's pretty hefty praise from a Hall of Fame coach who has won more than 700 games, been to three Final Fours and coached arguably the most decorated women's basketball player of all time, Dawn Staley.
But just how good is Wright? What about her game and her attitude makes her so special? Does she deserve the acclaim she is receiving?
These are not easy questions to answer, but I'll give them a shot. First, Wright is one of the most productive and prolific scorers in the history of ACC women's basketball, which numbers prove, as do observations.
Wright was selected as the preseason ACC player of the year, and I'll eat my shoe if she doesn't end up winning it. Multiple coaches and a few fellow reporters who have more insider knowledge than I do seem to think she's a lock. We'll find out tomorrow.
I'll go one step further, though. I don't think there's any player who is more valuable to her team than Wright. Of the 30 players on the midseason watch list for the Naismith Award - a sampling of the best players on the best teams - Wright is the only one who leads her team in scoring, assists and rebounding.
Also consider the fact that she's third in the nation in steals per game and no slouch in blocks. So, statistically, Wright is one of the top five defenders in the nation, one of the top 10 offensive players in the nation - she's eighth in scoring in the NCAA - and the team's most effective rebounder. That last part is particularly impressive when you consider the fact that she's a guard.
Also, unlike Naismith favorites Maya Moore and Tina Charles - both from unstoppable Connecticut and both of whom Wright trumps statistically - Wright is the only dangerous playmaker on her team. Defenses cover her like a blanket, and she still lights up the scoreboard in historic fashion.
Even though she won't likely win the award, I have reasonable hope she'll finish in the top five in voting.
Would she win a one-on-one battle with every other player in the country? No. Are there players more physically dominating and "Outstanding," which the Naismith is actually awarded for? Perhaps.\nBut Wright has it all. Certainly, she has stats, as I and other Cavalier Daily writers have pointed out ad nauseum.
She also has the game. Ask anyone who's seen the team practice: Wright is the fastest, strongest and most conditioned player on the team. Ryan claims that Wright has admitted to being exhausted only once in her life, after this season's Duke game. Pretty impressive for someone who has played nearly a thousand minutes this season.
In her arsenal are a bunch of scoring moves from all distances, but my favorite is what I call The Monica Jumper.
First, she takes off 10 or 15 feet from the basket with considerable hang time. Then she floats in the air, her body completely stationary, with perfect control of every muscle. Finally, she sinks the shot. Defenders stick their hands up or jump to try and cover her, but she just elevates above them.
I can't count the number of times I've seen this exact sequence: Wright receives the rock a few feet in front of the three-point arc. She starts driving to the net, and two or three defenders rush to the lane. Wright stops on a dime, glides through the air and, with three or more hands right in her face, swishes the shot.
Finally, Wright has the most valuable intangibles in the nation, hands down. I remember interviewing players before the season and asking them who the leaders of the team were.
"Besides Moni, you mean?" would be the typical response. She's the unquestioned, automatic leader of the Cavaliers. I've never met anyone who has had anything remotely negative to say about Wright. I've received a bunch of e-mails and comments from fans with sweet anecdotes of Wright reaching out to them in little and big ways.
I remember Ryan saying she never has second thoughts about leaving the team for a few days to recruit because she has essentially a second coach on a team. That's a lot of trust to place on a 21-year-old, but I don't think anyone who has met Wright would question it.
For four years, the Cavaliers have been blessed with a locker room stalwart, a consummate competitor and a leader by word and example. As empty as the court will feel without No. 22, it's the people that will miss her the most.
Wright's positive impact has reached those on and around the team, throughout NCAA women's basketball and Virginia athletics, and to the University community as a whole. If that's not someone worth writing and talking about, I'm not sure who is.