Five years ago, when Moses Wright was still a junior at Enloe High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, and about as far off the college recruiting radar as one can get, the nation’s premier recruit, Harry Giles, lived just 100 miles to the west, in Winston-Salem.
Wright and Giles both signed last week with the L.A. Clippers in advance of training camp — Wright to an Exhibit 10 contract following a Summer League run with the Pelicans, and Giles to a non-guaranteed, league-minimum deal in the wake of three up and down seasons with the Kings and Trail Blazers. Giles would seem in the running for L.A.’s final regular-season roster spot, while Wright, given the nature of his deal and that he was not selected in July’s NBA draft, is likely to land in the G League this season.
But back in the summer of 2016, just the idea of the two unacquainted teenagers one day sharing an NBA court together would have been nearly inconceivable.
At the time, Giles was preparing to enroll at powerhouse Duke University, where he would soon play for Mike Krzyzewski, then and now the winningest coach in men’s college basketball history. The 6-foot-11 forward had managed to remain at the top of the high school rankings (above future stars Jayson Tatum and Lonzo Ball) and had kept his coveted Duke scholarship, despite missing all of his sophomore and senior seasons with separate ACL tears. Two major leg injuries before the age of 19. And yet, any coach in the country would’ve danced a jig to get him.
Wright, meanwhile, was eliciting no such fanfare or benefit of the doubt. The lanky forward had grown six inches since arriving as a 6-foot-1 freshman but still had not made Enloe’s varsity team. His senior year would be his first and only season. In the ever-important world of high school player rankings, Wright was a ghost — unranked and unstarred — a nobody who had about as much attention from college recruiters as your average French bulldog.
Thankfully, Wright had someone around him with a loud bark.
‘Why Are You Stealing That Lady’s Money?’
As the founder of the Garner Road Bulldogs Basketball Club in Raleigh and a living legend within AAU circles, Dwayne West has helped elevate hundreds of kids to college basketball. He also watched his brother, David, who was barely recruited out of high school, become a First-Team AP All-American at Xavier University and enjoy a 15-year career in the NBA. (Yes, that David West.) Recruiting status is not a concern to Dwayne.
But even so, when Wright’s mother, Calla, first brought Moses to Garner Road for private instruction, West had his doubts.
“When I first met (Moses), he was a ninth-grade, 6-foot-1 guard that couldn’t get off the JV bench,” West told Steve Hummer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2020, during Wright’s junior year at Georgia Tech. “I was kind of saying to the trainer, why are you stealing that lady’s money?” But the truth was, Calla, a school teacher, had never wanted her son to play basketball in the first place.
“My mom didn’t want me to be the average black guy playing football and basketball,” Moses told Hummer. Calla encouraged her sons to participate in activities and sports outside of the norm, enrolling them in swimming and tennis programs.
“I wanted them to be different,” Calla said. “I wanted them to be exposed to all things that kids may not have the opportunities to do. In my opinion, it makes a child well-rounded, and those were the opportunities I wanted to give my sons. Playing in the orchestra. Going to concerts. Other things like that.”
And, for a while, Wright stuck to his mother’s plan. But one day, in the seventh grade, he snuck out of swim class to try out for a basketball team and though Calla was furious at first, she relented, eventually paying for him to work with West at Garner Road a couple of years later. A few years after that, Wright joined Garner’s AAU squad and the staff got the sense something was afoot.
“The next thing we know, we look up and he’s 6-foot-8 and still had the mindset of a guard,” West recalled. But a soon-to-be-senior without varsity experience wasn’t exactly a hot commodity, and so West began to make some calls. “We were begging Division II and lower Division I schools to go and take a look at him.”
Eventually, West persuaded Georgia Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie to come to some games and watch a little tape. LaBarrie and head coach Josh Pastner quickly liked what they saw — handles, a nice jump shot, smarts — and following Wright’s impressive lone varsity season, when he averaged 21.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, Georgia Tech offered Moses a full scholarship.
“I applaud (Georgia Tech) for that because there’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t sniff at Moses because he didn’t have the stars and all that stuff,” West told AJC’s Ken Sugiura in 2017.
Wright wasn’t a hit right away in Atlanta, but his junior year he was just three rebounds short of averaging a double-double, and as a senior last season he was an indisputable force — averaging 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists while playing the sixth most minutes in the conference.
One of the bigger moments of 2021 came on March 2, when Wright scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds — his fourth straight double-double — in a Yellow Jackets overtime victory over Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils. It was Tech’s first win over Duke since 2010.
Six days later, Wright was named ACC Player of the Year.
Anonymous But Not Alone
Though Wright is unlikely to find himself trading recruiting war stories with Giles, he may discover common ground with another late bloomer in Clippers camp. Second-round rookie point guard Jason Preston also knows what it’s like to unexpectedly go from basketball rags to riches.
Enrolled as a summer freshman at the University of Central Florida, Preston, who averaged 2.0 points a game as a senior in high school, was already on his way to pursuing a journalism career when a friend randomly asked if he wanted to play in a weekend AAU tournament.
Like Wright, Preston had experienced a growth spurt later than usual, and now at 6-foot-4, he was bigger and stronger than he had been throughout most of grade school. But Preston himself could never have imagined that accepting his friend’s request would eventually lead to a full ride at Ohio University, First Team All-MAC honors and a shot at an NBA career. Yet here we are.
Unlike Wright’s Exhibit 10 deal, Preston’s place in the league is safe for at least a couple of seasons. In August Preston signed a 3-year, $4.46 million contract with the Clippers. (The third year is non-guaranteed.) Wright, on the other hand, as an undrafted prospect, will need to fight the tide to remain in the league and land a guaranteed contract.
Good thing he’s a strong swimmer.