SALT LAKE CITY – DJ Wright’s month of March was what young athletes dream about, but very few achieve.
DJ is a First Nations athlete from Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto, Canada. A year ago he was MVP for his Toronto Academy Prep. basketball team and on the list of the top 150 players in Canada. Today, he’s a member of the Salt Lake Community College basketball team, which recently won the national junior college basketball championship in Hutchinson, Kan., and DJ was chosen as the MVP.
But that’s just part of the story. A lot happened along the way.
DJ, the son of Donald and Stella Wright, was headed for Louisiana State University. “The coach I really trust and am cool with left LSU and took a job with Louisiana Tech, so I recommitted,” DJ said. Unfortunately he didn’t qualify academically so he had to go to a junior college. “That coach, he told me Salt Lake would be a good spot for me.” The choice, as it turned out, was excellent, both for DJ and for Salt Lake Community College.
Salt Lake was ranked in the top 15 junior colleges in the nation all season and led the Scenic West Athletic Conference until the final weekend of the regular season. Several teams were evenly matched and North Idaho College ended up winning the conference title and hosting the tournament with the winner of that tournament to continue toward the national title.
Salt Lake came back to win the SWAC tournament and DJ was picked to the all-tournament team and as the Region 18 tournament most valuable player. In those two games DJ scored 56 points, hitting 21 of 33 field goal attempts, and eight of 11 from the 3-point range.
The team still had to defeat a team from Arizona to advance to the national finals. That accomplished, they packed their bags for Hutchinson, Kan. and the nationals.
Four games awaited them on their run to being the national junior college champions. The four teams they ended up playing, from Alabama, North Dakota, Florida and Texas had a combined record of 122 wins and eight losses as the tournament began.
That’s the kind of competition a good athlete likes and that fit DJ and his Salt Lake teammates to a tee. “It was crazy (at nationals),” DJ commented. “It was a good experience. Winning was even better. It was great competition and there were a lot of scouts.
“We had a goal that if we went there it was to win it. We stuck with our goal. It was exciting to win. It was an all-around great experience.”
Salt Lake CC entered the national tournament with a worse win-loss record than any team they were to play, but that’s likely indicative of the strength of the SWAC conference. “I think it’s the best conference in the nation,” DJ said. “Any of four teams from our conference could have gone to nationals. Our conference is really tough.”
DJ averaged 24 points a game during those four games and led all rebounders with an average of 10.8 per game. He is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs about 225 pounds, so leading the rebounding against many players much taller is a tribute to his athletic ability and work ethic. During that tournament he was 23 of 47 in field goal attempts and nine of 17 from 3-point range.
DJ was selected for the William French MVP award at this national tournament against the best junior college players in the country. He joined fellow teammate Nate Bendall on the all tournament team where Salt Lake head coach Norm Parrish was also picked as the coach of the tournament.
Parrish speaks highly of DJ. “The sky’s the limit. He’s got a ton of potential. He’s a very good player right now, but if he’ll work hard and stay focused and do the things he needs to, he could be really special.
“He’s just a freshman. He’s got to concentrate academically. That’s a hurdle for him. Then just keep expanding his game. We’re trying to get him stronger and to be a more complete player. As far as his talent goes, he’s as good as there is; if you just measured running and jumping. He has a good natural feel for the game. If he’ll work, his future could be really bright.”
And what does DJ hope to see in his future? First, he plans to return to Salt Lake for his sophomore year and then, “I’d like to go to a four-year program and play my final two years, then one day get paid to play basketball.”
And after that, “I would like to do a lot of basketball camps for Native Americans – young children.”
DJ was selected as a first team NJCAA All-American along with Tahee Robinson from Sheridan Jr. College.