By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
There was a problem, though. Wright never much concerned with school needed better grades, and he also wanted to get more exposure. He could get both at South Kent, a prep school in Connecticut. There, he opened and closed the gym every night, determined to improve his game. When the season started, the word of Wright's dominance began to spread.
"He was definitely feared," South Kent Assistant Coach Owen Finberg says. "At any point, he was somebody that could put 30 or 40 points on you."
Versatility was his game. He would hit the jumper and beat people to the basket. He could defend. He could block shots. He was easily South Kent's best player and the focal point of its offense.
"Other teams would have to prepare for him," Finberg said.
Wright was named MVP of the National Prep School Invitational and an All-Time Jordan Brand All-American at the Jordan Classic, an all-star game for the top high school seniors in the country. Coaches and recruiters nationwide noticed, and he visited the University of Southern California, the University of Iowa, Long Beach State, and DePaul University.
But those schools were out of their league literally. Though Wright would eventually give a verbal commitment to DePaul, he couldn't put his NBA aspirations on hold especially since scouts seemed convinced that if he took "the jump," he'd make a soft landing in the draft's first round.
Still, these inducements conflicted with the advice of most of the people in Wright's inner circle. His Leuzinger High School coach, Reggie Morris, had played college ball at Howard University, and he didn't want Wright missing out on a similarly rich experience. Wright's mom wanted very much for her son to be the first member of their family to attend college. He told her he would go back later, probably for kinesthesiology.
Clark suggested a compromise: Try college for one year. "Nope," Wright said. "I think I got it." The NBA, that is.
It wasn't that his family needed the money. Wright was raised in a middle-class suburban cul-de-sac six blocks east of Inglewood.
The Wrights' place was always called "the Kool-Aid house," because kids practically busted through the walls.
It's where the family has lived since Wright was 5 years old, and his friends, along with friends of his younger brother, Delon, and younger sister, Denae, made it their hangout base. They wanted to be around Wright, his basketball hoop, and his family. Stacy and Ray Wright had been happily married and working the same jobs for 20 years he as a carpenter and she as a clerk typist for the LAPD. They knew how to throw a party.
On the night of the 2004 NBA draft, the block was lined with the cars of about 100 friends and family. Wright, then 18 years old, had requested this party just three days before. "I want all my friends over," Stacy Wright remembers being told. "Make potato salad. Order chicken." Stacy Wright even got her hair blown out for the occasion.
The house began to fill up at 1 o'clock, and the tension was palpable. If Wright didn't get chosen till the second round, he'd wind up with just a one-year contract, millions less than he'd get in the first round. For this reason, college is widely considered a better option than becoming a second-round draft pick.
But if you can be picked in the NBA draft even in the second round it's a considerable gamble to enroll at a university. Players sometimes get injured in college or fall miles short of their potential.
Besides, players like Wright had made it this far by being aggressive, by proving they're ready before everybody else thinks they are. Players like him don't let opportunities slip by.
Stacy Wright remembers how Dorell jumped from room to room and seat to seat, chatting and taking phone calls from former coaches and friends who couldn't be there. After what seemed like hours of watching other high school stars like Dwight Howard and Shaun Livingston get drafted, pick 19 arrived for the Miami Heat. Dorell Wright's name was called, and the Kool-Aid house erupted.
Derrick Clark hit the ceiling with everybody else. His friend Dorell had made the NBA it seemed surreal.
In February 2005, after Wright had set himself up in Miami, Wright invited Clark and Harden down for a visit. They went to three games, which by sheer coincidence were the first games for which Wright was in uniform. They watched his career debut against the Chicago Bulls. Clark and Harden seemed to have brought good luck, and when Harden left, Clark stayed a little longer. Then a little longer.
Junior college couldn't compete with this lifestyle. Clark put school aside to live with Wright, helping his friend with the everyday chores of adulthood. With his spare time, Clark worked on starting a nonprofit AAU team. Asked why he did so, Clark's answer is practically a knee jerk.
"Because he asked me to."
Like a clown fish and a sea anemone, or an Egyptian plover and a crocodile, there is an elegant symbiosis to Clark and Wright's relationship. Clark gets to piggyback on Wright's NBA career. Wright gets the care and support he needs at home. And, God knows, he's needed it.