Archdeacon: Raiders’ Wright finally finds the right school

Jada Wright this season with Wright State. The 6-foot-3 junior has moved into the starting lineup and is drawing praise from head coach Trina Merriweather. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics
Jada Wright this season with Wright State. The 6-foot-3 junior has moved into the starting lineup and is drawing praise from head coach Trina Merriweather. Joseph Craven/Wright State Athletics

After first committing herself to three other colleges and along the way enduring a pair of knee surgeries and a definite blow to her psyche, she has become the poster child of a familiar slogan:

“Wright State – Right School.”

“And with her being Jada Wright, she’s even got the name that fits,” Trina Merriweather, WSU women’s basketball coach, said with a laugh. “That’s kind of cute.”

Although the 6-foot-3 junior has moved into the starting lineup for the 15-5 Raiders – who close the regular season this weekend with 2 p.m. games against Wisconsin Green Bay today and Saturday at the Nutter Center – much of her college journey has been anything but “cute” up to now.

It’s taken her onto some of the more unattractive detours that are all too prevalent in college basketball.

Coming out of Rich East High in Park Forest, Illinois on the south side of Chicago, Wright was recruited by several colleges – including Wright State, which she visited – and chose Rutgers.

When she didn’t meet all the academic requirements there, she was going to be forced to sit out a season, just as Obi Toppin had done at Dayton.

Instead, she chose to hone her books and basketball approach at a junior college, where she could play immediately. And when she joined the Trinity Valley Community College program in Athens, Texas, she was rated the No. 1 center in all of JUCO basketball.

After a solid first season, she suffered a torn ACL in her right knee playing in open gym in the offseason and the surgery that followed sidelined her for a year.

Her mom, Melody Shaw, said while her daughter wasn’t able to run up and down the court, she did step up in the classroom: “She made the Dean’s List a couple of times and graduated with her associates degree.”

West Virginia then signed her, but Shaw said she was plagued by scar tissue in her knee and couldn’t move like she needed to in the Mountaineers’ Top 25 program.

Wright said she thought she needed another surgery, but that WVU believed she could “rehab” her way through it.

She played in just one game last season – four minutes against Cornell on December 31, 2019 – and scored two points and got one rebound. After the season she said head coach Mike Carey had an unvarnished conversation with her.

Jada Wright last season with West Virginia Mountaineers. CONTRIBUTED
Jada Wright last season with West Virginia Mountaineers. CONTRIBUTED

As she remembered it: “He said I should probably go somewhere else. He said, ‘You’re not going to be satisfied with your playing time.’

“I was definitely upset. They knew I was coming off a torn ACL. I said, ‘Why did you recruit me if you knew this was going to be a problem? What was the point?’

“He told me it was just bad timing and it was this and that. Finally, I was like: ‘That’s cool. I don’t blame you. You can’t wait on me and wait on my leg. It’s a business. I understand.

“‘But I know I can be a good player, so I’m going to go somewhere they really want me, someplace I can play and contribute.’”

She said Texas A&M showed interest, but her mom had other thoughts.

“The first thing that popped in my head was Coach Trina,” Shaw said. “I loved her from that first day we met her when Jada was still a senior in high school. The vibe she gave off just stuck in my head.

“And as soon as Jada got her release from West Virginia, I said: ‘Coach Trina, Wright State, that’s where you should be. That’s where you should have gone in the first place.’”

Overcoming obstacles

Wright said she was raised by her mom: “My dad, I don’t know much about him. He wasn’t part of most of it.”

The male figure who was big in her life was her grandfather, Amariah Shaw, who at 6-foot-7, once was with the Baltimore Bullets she said.

“She started out playing street ball with the boys because the girls were too soft for her,” her mom chuckled. “And one day when I watched her, I said, ‘Wait a minute! She’s got a God-given talent.’ After that I tried to make sure I invested in her gift.”

Wright said her grandfather worked with her and as a senior in high school, she was nominated to be a McDonald’s All American.

Jada Wright (left with white head band), her brother Keontae (blue hat) and cousin Ambrianna (in yellow) with their grandfather and former pro basketball player, Amariah “Papa” Shaw. CONTRIBUTED
Jada Wright (left with white head band), her brother Keontae (blue hat) and cousin Ambrianna (in yellow) with their grandfather and former pro basketball player, Amariah “Papa” Shaw. CONTRIBUTED

As a four-star recruit, she visited Rutgers and was swayed when she met head coach C. Vivian Stringer, the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach who is now in her 50th season as a college head coach and has won 1,041 games.

“Coach Stringer, with her demeanor and integrity, it reminded Jada of her great grandmother,” Shaw said. “She felt Rutgers would be a great fit for her.”

The academic issue rerouted her to Trinity Valley, a school which has been home to numerous future NFL and NBA players and is known for its stellar women’s basketball program. Her ACL injury kept her from a second season of development there and then hampered her dramatically at West Virginia.

Yet Shaw has seen some good come out of her daughter’s travails:

“Going through everything she did made her more mature, more humble. She’s shown she’s an overcomer. She overcame the injury and has shown she can handle things even when they don’t fall easily into her hands.

“She’s developed into a very strong, motivated young woman who now believes she can achieve her dreams.”

‘A genuine feel to it’

Wright said WSU has a lot to do with this renewed outlook:

“Wright State has a genuine feel to it. And a lot of it is because of Coach Trina. She cares about you as a person, not just for what you can do for the program. They want what’s best for you here.”

The first thing that happened at WSU, she said, was getting arthroscopic surgery on her knee before the season began. It sidelined her for three games, though two were cancelled because of adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

After that she said she had to work at getting back in shape, physically and mentally.

“I hadn’t played any real minutes in a game for almost three years,” she said. “But whenever I started to talk down on myself or wasn’t in a good head space, I had a support system that lifted me up.

“I’ve got a girlfriend back home from high school that’s always there for me and I’ve got my mom and family that always says, ‘You got this!’”

Merriweather agreed that she does have it now:

“She’s really coming around and getting better every single practice. She’s an extremely gifted basketball player.”

10 ---JADA WRIGHT this season with Wright State. The 6-foot-3 junior has moved into the starting lineup and is drawing praise from head coach Trina Merriweather. Detroit Mercy Athletics
10 ---JADA WRIGHT this season with Wright State. The 6-foot-3 junior has moved into the starting lineup and is drawing praise from head coach Trina Merriweather. Detroit Mercy Athletics

Merriweather moved her into the starting lineup eight games ago.

The Raiders have won six straight games and going into this final weekend of conference play, they lead the league standings by two games. They’re also tops in the conference in fewest points allowed per game (55) and they are fourth nationally in total rebounds per game.

Wright is averaging 5.6 points and 5.6 rebounds over the last three games and, playing the No. 4 position, she’s shown a notable defensive presence.

“I’m really getting comfortable now,” she said. “I’m finally getting back in the groove.”

As the old slogan goes:

“Wright State – Right School.”

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