ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Chris Wright is no stranger to taking on the best the NBA has to offer. His ties to Ohio landed him the chance to attend the LeBron James Skills Academy while he was still in college at the University of Dayton.
While the experience on the court was valuable, one piece of advice James gave to him still sticks out in his mind.
"He always told me, ‘We always wonder why this guy made it into the NBA or that guy, but at the same time maybe he stayed in the gym at all times of the night getting extra work in when nobody knows,’" Wright said. "That’s one thing I’ve took from that. Ever since then I’ve tried to implement that in everything I do. Just keep working."
That’s exactly why Wright was scrambling in the locker room after Saturday’s loss to Toronto, trying to find anyone to let him into the team’s practice facility to shoot free throws after missing all four of his attempts in the game.
Wright was on the Cousins Center floor until 2 a.m. He was going to be out there until he hit 500 free throws.
"That’s all I was thinking about," Wright said. "I feel like if I would have made those four free throws we would have won. I did everything else I could do, but at the end of the day, a free throw is free. You have to be able to knock down free throws."
Signed to a second 10-day contract Saturday morning, Wright left an impression on coach Larry Drew and the organization in his first stint with the Bucks, one that led to him getting brought back.
"That doesn’t surprise me about this kid," Drew said when told about Wright staying late. "He is a competitor. I like him a lot. It was tough to not bring him back after that first 10-day expired. He does a lot of good things on the floor."
Wright played 26 minutes in Milwaukee’s loss to Sacramento on March 23 and scored nine points with four rebounds. That was the final day of his first 10-day contract and although the Bucks were interested in keeping him, the team wanted to take a look at D.J. Stephens.
While waiting to find out if the Bucks would come calling again, Wright went back to the NBA’s Developmental League and played three games with the Maine Red Claws despite battling food poisoning.
"I was hoping," Wright said. "I feel like when I got my opportunity in my first 10-day that I did everything I could do. Just getting feedback from some of the players and some of the coaches saying that I played well and that they love the way I play, you always keep that on your mind. But at the same time, there’s still a chance that maybe they didn’t like what they saw."
The Bucks like Wright’s ability to defend bigger shooting guards and small forwards. At 6-foot-6, Wright has already taken on the challenge of guarding Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan in his short time with Milwaukee.
Drew didn’t know much about Wright when he first joined the Bucks, but did remember his length and athletic ability from the 24 games the 25-year-old played with Golden State during the 2011-12 season.
"First of all, he takes the challenge defensively," Drew said. "He gives us a real physical presence at the two or three spot. They may score on him, but he’s going to make them work.
"I think he fits the profile of the player that we are looking for. The thing that really intrigues me about him is that he plays hard and plays with a physicality. If he’s defending his guy, he defends him. He busts through screens. He just plays hard."
After the day was over at the LeBron James Skills Academy, Wright said he’d stick around and play with some of the NBA players. Those experiences just drove home the notion that defense was what was going to get him into the league.
He used the chance to guard NBA All-Stars as a test of his defensive ability.
"That’s something I really hang my hat on," Wright said. "For some reason growing up, I always wanted to stop somebody. I never wanted to be the one to hit all the 3s. Of course I wanted to score, but it always felt good when somebody gave you their best move and not to be able to score. That’s what I always thrived off of.
"Anybody can shoot shots, but to go out there and defend somebody, that’s kind of like the hard hat job. I’ll take that any day."
Wright’s current 10-day contract expires with just two days left in the regular season. Nothing has been decided quite yet as to if he’ll continue with the Bucks into the summer, but Drew certainly wouldn’t mind having Wright in the fold.
"We’re going to talk about it," Drew said. "We’ll go over personnel once the season is over with, but I’ve already told (general manager) John Hammond and (assistant general manager) David Morway that I like this kid a lot."