by Bruce Wood
Miles Wright was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman, and with his 12th point last Friday night against Cornell he became the only player in school history to accumulate 1,000 points, 400 rebounds, 100 three-pointers and 100 steals.
That’s pretty impressive stuff, but here’s the thing about Dartmouth’s 6-foot-5, 210-pound all-purpose guard.
As accomplished as he is on the hardwood, basketball wasn’t even his best sport coming out of high school. Just ask him.
“I was definitely better at football,” Wright admits, almost a little sheepishly.
As a dual-threat quarterback at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts, the Boston native threw two touchdown passes and ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns in one game of his junior season on the way to finishing an eight-game slate with 12 touchdowns through the air and 11 on the ground. Both ESPN and 247Sports awarded him three stars on their football recruiting lists and major Division I programs took note.
Even after a stress fracture in early summer cost him his final season on the gridiron, Syracuse tendered him a football scholarship. Boston College and UMass also made runs at him as did UConn, and that’s not all.
“I heard from some big schools,” he says. “Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon, schools like that that were interested. As they realized that I wanted to play basketball, some schools that offered me started to talk to their basketball programs to see if they could secure me a walk-on spot or something like that, where I could play both. Just to kind of attract me to the school.”
Wright was flattered that football recruiters thought enough of him to suggest doubling up but he wasn’t tempted.
“No, I wasn’t,” he says. “That’s a very enticing offer. For example, at a school like Syracuse you can go play for Jim Boeheim, but two sports in college is tough. Especially in back-to-back seasons with the overlap. You never really get to put everything you have into one of them. That’s a big part of what I am doing here with the decision to play basketball.”
Which brings us full circle to the question of the day. Why basketball, Miles?
“I was better at football but I always loved basketball more,” he says without hesitation. “Football is something that I never really put much effort into. I guess it was just sort of a natural talent. I picked it up in September and put it down in November and didn’t touch it until the next September. Basketball is something I can never put down.
“To be honest, there was never a point in time where I thought I was going to play football. But when schools are coming and offering you scholarships, you can’t just say, ‘No thank you.’ My dad was always telling me, ‘Just keep them on the table. You never know what is going to happen. Be cordial. Have conversations.’ So that’s what I did.”
When it became clear that he would be all-basketball, all-the-time, the football recruiters started to back off. Missing his junior summer evaluation period because of the stress fracture probably scared bigger basketball schools as well.
“With the injury and everything, it came down to Dartmouth, Columbia and Bryant,” he says. “I planned to take all three visits before I came to Dartmouth.”
It was his initial campus visit that helped seal the deal for the Big Green to land its first Ivy Rookie of the Year since Leon Pattman was so honored after the 2003-04 season.
“You hear Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, and you don’t really know what it is,” Wright says. “You just hear it is in woods and in the middle of nowhere. But when you get on campus, this is what everyone dreams about. It’s just a really beautiful place, and I saw that the first time I set foot up here.”
Hosted on his visit by forward Ike Ngwudo, Wright felt immediately comfortable, and not just because of the beauty of the surroundings.
“It was all about the relationships I had with the guys on the team, with the coaches and the professors that I met on my visit,” he says. “I knew this was the right place for me.”
Wright started 24 games as a freshman, averaging 7.7 points, finishing second on the team in made three-pointers and topping all Ivy League players in steals in conference play.
His final regular-season game that winter remains perhaps his favorite collegiate memory as he hit two free throws with 24 seconds left and came off a screen to nail a triple with 13 seconds remaining to help the Big Green deny Yale the undisputed Ivy League championship with a 59-58 win at Leede Arena.
Four days after the dramatic upset of Yale capped a 14-14 regular-season and brought an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament — the Big Green’s first trip to the postseason in 56 years — Wright was taken by surprise while checking his phone after a workout in Leede Arena.
“I saw a bunch of texts from my teammates and friends from home that were like, ‘Congrats,’” he says. “I wasn’t sure what they were talking about so I looked online and saw (the Rookie of the Year announcement). I didn’t think I was going to get it.”
Second-year Dartmouth coach David McLaughlin can’t say enough about the contributions made both on and off the court by the quiet team leader who helped ease his transition to the Big Green bench a year ago.
“It starts with his everyday approach,” the coach says in his Berry Center office. “He has great habits. We had a leadership meeting yesterday at 9 a.m. and he shows up at 8:59 soaking wet because he had already been in the gym for 40 minutes. He is completely team first. He is leading a very young team right now and it has been incredibly humbling for me as a coach to see how he’s thriving in that role.
“If we’re going to show people make mistakes defensively, if we’re going to show someone taking a bad shot on film, if we’re going to show someone making a rushed decision, we are showing him on video,” the coach goes on. “He’s the first one to say, ‘You are right. That was wrong. I am going to get it right today in practice,’ and he usually does. That’s the sign of a leader.”
Wright is averaging 12.1 points and 4.4 rebounds this winter with big games like a 23-point, seven-rebound effort at Harvard, a 21-point outburst against Albany and 37 points on last weekend’s Cornell-Columbia trip. To be fair, he’s also had games where he has struggled. In the second game with the Crimson he went 0-for-6 from the field and did not score.
McLaughlin cautions not to read too much into the occasional quiet game.
“When he doesn’t play well, you can tell,” the coach says. “He is prideful and takes things very personally. If he is upset in the game, you give him his space because you know he’s going to figure something out. He is incredibly mature. He is someone who knows what he wants.”
What he wants after his final season wraps up is the chance to continue playing in Europe. McLaughlin thinks that is within his reach.
“He’s going to finish the season strong and really concentrate on training in the spring,” he says. “I certainly think he has more than a legitimate chance to play. He’s got to be able to make great decisions off the dribble and be able to guard multiple positions, stuff you can get better at.
“But in terms of knowing how to take care of his body, being mature and ready to travel to another country, understanding how to deal with adversity, he’s ready to deal with all that.”
And if basketball doesn’t work out? Last spring, while taking a full course load, Wright studied for and then earned his real estate license. He went on to intern last summer with Century 21 Cityside in Boston, helping move residential properties in the Back Bay area of Boston.
“I worked with Collin Bray, who I think is one of the best real estate agents in the country,” Wright says. “I really learned a lot from him and it’s something I can see myself doing because it is very relationship based, which is something I pride myself on.”
Bray, who played guard on very successful Colby-Sawyer basketball teams before graduating in 2006, was impressed with Wright when he first spoke with him, and even more so when he met him.
“We talked on the phone and I asked if he’s interested in coming down to meet me in Boston that weekend,” Bray says. “And this is like a Thursday. I said the only time I had was on Sunday, at an open house between 2 and 3 p.m. He says OK. I gave him a map, he buys a bus ticket down from Dartmouth, as busy as he is. He gets to Boston, figures out how to get from the bus station, walks in and introduces himself.
“The minute he walked in I knew this was my guy. He showed determination, a certain level of commitment and a maturity that impressed me. He’s very humble but has confidence and is great with people. We sent him out with clients all on his own to do showings. He’ll be a success in (real estate) or quite frankly any field he decides on.”
First, though, there’s the matter of helping a very young Dartmouth team that has been ever-so-close in Ivy League games this winter finish his final season on an up note and set the groundwork for future success.
“I think because he has bought in so well, has grown so much as a leader and is having such an impact on these young guys every day that his legacy is going to be so much more than points or wins here,” says McLaughlin. “He is going to be able to come back to this campus, whether it’s in a year or five years or whenever it is, and know that he is a big part of something really special. Part of a foundation that this program could then leap from.”