Nothing has changed.
Now, as before, University of Dayton coaches get a little giddy around Chris Wright.
Just before halftime – in what would end up an 88-60 victory by the Dayton Flyers over visiting Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon – Wright stood in the UD Arena tunnel looking like he had just stepped off the pages of GQ.
He wore a black velvet jacket with a red handkerchief – the same color as his shoes — peeking out of the breast pocket. And beneath it was a white silk shirt that was topped with two glittery necklaces and matching diamond earrings.
He was waiting – along with Flyers women’s basketball great Kristin Daugherty Ronai and former UD baseball pitcher and athletics director Tim Wabler – to be announced as one of the three new inductees in the University of Dayton Athletics Hall of Fame.
But standing there – in the same passageway he ran out of for four seasons with the Flyers from 2007-11 – Wright found himself with feelings from the past more than an anticipation of what was ahead.
“I feel like I’m about to go out there and play,” he said quietly as the crowd roared following a Trey Landers fast break lay-up. “I’m excited…I’ve got goosebumps.”
» RELATED: Gregory congratulates Wright
When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Flyers players soon poured into the tunnel on the way to the dressing room. They all spotted him and one after another they passed by and gave him a hug. The assistant coaches did the same.
And then came head coach Anthony Grant, usually all business, stoicism and reservation.
He saw Wright and broke into a big smile before taking a step backwards and going through a series of exaggerated “I’m not worthy” bows. Then the two embraced warmly and Grant patted him on the back.
“He’s a legend for what he was here,” Grant would explain later. “He’s a local guy who stayed home because of what the University of Dayton meant to him.
“The first time I really got to spend time with him was in Oklahoma City (where Grant was an assistant coach and Wright was in camp before playing for the club’s G-League team.) I got to see what kind of person he is. He’s just a decent guy.
“He has a great mind for trying to help people and give back. He’s evolving as a man, a businessman and a friend. He’s just a great ambassador for this university.”
Some 14 years or so ago it was another UD head coach – Brian Gregory – who got caught up in the emtions of the moment when it came to Wright.
Gregory has just landed one of the most meaningful recruits in UD basketball history when Wright – a star at Trotwood Madison High School – picked the Flyers over the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Texas, Florida, Xavier and the University of Kentucky.
Wright had always wanted to go to UK and even had shown up for his first visit to UD wearing a blue ‘Cats jacket.
“But it finally dawned on me that I only have one hometown and I wanted to be the start of something special and build something here,” Wright said Saturday. “At Kentucky or North Carolina or wherever I’d be just another person. I wanted to make a difference.”
When Gregory got word, he – like Grant – dropped any sense of self containment.
“Right when I committed, he wasn’t allowed to come to my house because it was a non-contact period,” Wright said with a laugh. But then the phone rang and someone said ‘Come outside.’ I did, but I didn’t see anybody.
“He had pulled up down the street and then I hear him yell: ‘Since you’ve committed, you’re going to be working for me now. So give me 10 push-ups!’
“And I dropped down and did 10 push-ups right there!”
It would be the only time in his Flyers’ career that Wright was so low to the ground.
In fact, when Flyers play-by-play announcer Larry Hansgen – who emceed the halftime Hall of Fame introductions – presented Wright to the standing, roaring crowd of 13,407, he called the 6-foot-8 leaper “one of the highest of high flyers” in UD history.
Wright – who missed half of his freshman season with a broken foot – holds the Flyers record for career dunks at 177.
His single season mark of 66 was eclipsed last season by the above-the-rim royalty that is Obi Toppin. As a freshman, the 6-foot-9 leaper had 83 dunks.
This season he also set the all-time dunk record in a game – 10 –against North Florida on Dec. 30.
Toppin had three dunks Saturday – including a break-away windmill slam that rocked the entire arena and gives him 135 for his career – but he then crumpled to the floor with 15:12 left in the game with what appears to be a sprained left ankle.
He was helped off the court and returned to the bench late in the game wearing a protective boot. Grant said his status will be better understood in a day or so.
One thing there’s no question about is that Toppin is a bonafide star and almost certainly a lottery pick in next spring’s draft should he jump to the NBA.
Wright praised his talent before Saturday’s game. but wasn’t quite ready to hand over the mantle of the highest of high Flyers:
“He’s an all-around great player. On the dunking side of things there’s a reason why my nickname is Flight. I call him O-Force 1 .
“I’ve met him a few times and he’s an all-around good kid. Everything that happens for him he deserves. He’s playing so well I don’t know if he’s going to get to break my dunk record. He might be out of here. That would be great for him but a sad day (for UD) if he leaves early.
“But I know you gotta go when you’re hot and right now he’s cooking”
While Toppin is the most talked about Flyer in recent memory, he will be hard-pressed to match Wright’s contribution to the program and what he’s done in the community since his college playing days.
Like Daughtery Ronai on the women’s side, Wright became a cornerstone upon which so many of the glorious accomplishments to come have been built.
And after his trumpeted UD career – which included a trip to second round of the NCAA tournament an NIT championship and 1,601 total points – Wright has spent eight years in the pros.
That’s included NBA stops with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, seasons in Israel and Poland and his time with the Oklahoma City Blue in the G-League.
In the Dayton-Trotwood area he launched various projects, including the Wright Way Foundation, his Flyght Academy and his part ownership of Orion Sports Medicine.
Since the Memorial Day tornadoes ravaged Trotwood, he’s stayed home and helped rebuild.
“Like I said. you only get one home,” he said. “If I’d be going to play in cities that are well put-together and then come back to my hometown that broken down from the tornadoes, that didn’t seem right.
“People need help and it’s not all in the form of money either. They need to see that you’re here for them.
“Along with my mom and my family, the city is what made me and I’ve got to do what I can.”
No current Flyer knows that better than senior Trey Landers, who is from here. It’s why he sought Wright out in the tunnel and embraced him:
“He’s like a mentor slash big brother to me. He does so much for our community. He’s more than just a Dayton basketball player, he’s someone who gives back every way he can. And everybody should know it. He is really somebody special here.”
He deserved a bow.
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