When the Toronto Raptors traded Marco Belinelli for Julian Wright, the move was one that made sense for both teams. Neither player had fit in as their respective GMs hoped, and the trade gave both the players and teams another chance to get it right.
While we’ll have to wait for the season to unfold to see if Wright will be able to piece everything together in his fourth season in the league, the 23 year-old took some time to speak with me about the upcoming year as well as give me the pleasure of introducing him to Raptors fans.
What did I learn? He’s a talker. Seriously. A call that took place after his first unofficial practice with his new teammates started with him about to nap in his hotel room and me promising to keep it short. In a flash, it was 47 minutes later and the newest member of the Toronto Raptors was up and ready to hit the court again, amping himself up talking about the opportunity in front of him.
He had so much to say that we’re giving you this in two parts: Today will cover the basketball basics. Tomorrow, you’ll get a glimpse into Julian Wright, the person. I won’t spoil what’s to come in Part 2, but I will say he’s very well-rounded and should find no problem fitting into the city of Toronto.
Holly MacKenzie: How are you feeling right now?
Julian Wright: Blah right now (laughs), because I’m tired. Not tired like, in a bad mood tired, I’m just laying down. It’s always that first day back working out and then the time difference. Today was good, though we just did some workouts, I’m just trying to meet some of the personnel, people that I’ll be working with. It was cool. That first day type of feeling when you get in that new environment when you’re trying to be observant and see how everything is.
HM: Are most of the guys back?
JW: Guys are here. Pretty much by Wednesday, we’ll be getting some competitive runs in.
HM: How are you feeling, conditioning-wise, on day one?
JW: I don’t think I’m in too bad of shape. I think it’s just that first day after taking a few days off packing and everything. I wasn’t about to fall out or anything. Just my legs, my lift, trying to get that back. Everything else is well, just gotta activate those muscles, those certain small muscles so you can fire off. We actually did two groups today with the bigs and the smalls doing opposite things, so we were worked out first, as opposed to lifting and I think the lift would have helped to get my legs going and things like that, but it was still a good workout.
HM: Were you familiar with any of the staff or is this your first time meeting them?
JW: This is pretty much the first time meeting anybody on staff. They definitely have a welcoming spirit about them, they want to make everyone feel at ease and comfortable and I think it’s been a good experience thus far.
HM: Where were you when you found out about the trade?
JW: I was in L.A. There was a time difference and I guess it hit the newswire right as I was waking up. I woke up to a text from one of my best friends, actually, and he told me about the rumor/confirmation through, I think, Marc Stein. I guess he tweeted it. I’m like, “Ehh” that’s how you wake up, like a, ‘Hey you got traded’ text, so it was kinda interesting, but it was all right, you know? My first thought was kinda like, ‘All right, so where do we go from here?’ in terms of it’s the summer getting traded which is better because you can kind of prepared for it as compared to during the season I wasn’t so much in panic mode like, “Oh man, what do I do”, so I was like, let me go workout and then talk to my agent and all of that stuff. I still have to take care of business, so I went to go work out and then afterwards I got more information about everything. I was definitely excited, just for a new phase, a change, a new chapter. Sometimes there are trades you have to make sure it goes through and everything. I wasn’t going to go like, be too giddy. I wanted to be level-headed and just see where it was going. Right when it was confirmed, I started to think, ‘Al lright, so I’m going to Canada,’ and all of that good stuff. Now, I’m here so, I’m definitely looking forward to it.
HM: Is that how you looked at it? As a new chapter and a fresh start for yourself?
JW: Definitely. One thing that I did think about was: I have to get a new wardrobe. I was in New Orleans and they didn’t have to dress–
HM: You’re from Chicago though, right?
JW: Right, but I outgrew all of those clothes, gave them away. I haven’t been there in five years. This doesn’t feel drastic, though. When I was in New Orleans, it’s hot and it rains. Here, you know, I need winter attire. Now I actually have to be like, alright, I have to take a few months of clothes from New Orleans for when we take trips down south, but for the most part, I have to get new clothes. I’m looking forward to it, it should be fun.
HM: Do you know much about the city? Or have you only been here the few times you’ve come through with the Hornets?
JW: I’ve only been here the three times we’ve been the past few seasons. I believe we’ve been here on a back-to-back every time. We’d get in kind of late. Actually, two of the three times were back-to-backs. It was late and we’ve had like early games, like 12 o’clock Sunday games. Yeahhh, so. (laughs). It was kinda like, ‘Aw, man.’ It was fun, the time that we had a day between games, that was definitely fun. It’s a whole new city, new country and it’s fun. Now I have to definitely pick up more on the cultures and lingo. I’m looking forward to that, too. A lot of diverse cultures I’ve seen, so many ethnicities. It’s like a melting pot. It’s really cool.
HM: When did you start playing basketball?
JW: Okay. I’m trying not to make my answers difficult, but I try to always give the full, accurate answer. I started playing at like three or four years old, but I started playing organized basketball in the seventh grade. I usually go with seventh grade, but I’ve always been playing basketball.
HM: Now, I’d ask who your favorite player was, but I’m guessing this is an easy one.
JW: Nooo, it isn’t. Who do you think it is?
HM: Well, you’re from Chicago so, the natural guess would be…
JW: Right… Kevin Garnett. It was Kevin Garnett. Michael Jordan, obviously, those two are 1-A, 1-B in no particular order. Growing up I tried to look at players I patterened my game after. Kevin Garnett was a player I looked up to a lot. He only played here one year. He went to Farragut which is a top notch school in Chicago, but just watching how he played and everything. He was tall, but he was multi-talented, multi-skilled. You can say Jordan was my favorite player growing up until I saw Kevin Garnett play. Then it was like, alright, that’s it. This is who I want to play like. Not necessary like, but have that mindset, do some of the things he does on the court. Growing up, kids usually gravitate towards one thing, like, ‘I’m a shooter, Imma keep shooting’ or they’re good at one thing and they’ll stick with it. Even coaches will do that to you growing up. I was like, you can’t put me in a box. I was running around and being effective, making things happen. That has kind of stuck with me now.
HM: Who has had the biggest impact on your basketball career?
JW: My coaches. All of my coaches. Assistant coaches included. My high school coach, Coach Condotti. He was the first coach to put me at point guard my sophomore and junior year. Point guard, not just like, guard. I played point guard. (laughs). It was definitely a great learning curve for me in terms of handling the ball, seeing the court, things of that nature. Then in high school, we had enough point guards, so I moved back to like small forward and power forward. Even in travel ball, I played point guard a little bit, so that really helped me out in my early stages. Then my college coach, coach Bill Self at Kansas, he definitely was very instrumental at helping me have a sense of urgency when I was playing. It’s not that I wasn’t playing hard in high school, but it’s almost like to become that much better in competition, you have to learn those things sometimes. Coach Self definitely did that. Mental toughness, that’s where I got that. That’s what gets you through this level now. I play hard, make plays no matter if I’m tired, whatever, you’ve just got to get it done. That would probably be my two coaches who have definitely had the biggest impact on my career thus far.
HM: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
JW: My high school coach will probably kill me if I can’t remember this… He said so many things. He was so quotable, but he gave me this poem about… The Man In the Mirror. Talking about, you can’t make excuses, because every time you look in the mirror the excuses are always on the shelf. So you’re late for class, you miss a shot or you made a turnover, you can’t make excuses. When you get home at the end of the day you can look yourself in the mirror, that man in the mirror and it should match what you’ve done and what you’ve said throughout the day. That was kind of the emphasis of the poem and he always reminded me of it and he was big on excuses. They may have even been true, but they were still excuses and he didn’t want to hear it.
HM: If you’re introducing yourself to Raptors fans, what would you want them to know about you?
JW: I would want them to know, well, if they’re coming to games to see me as a player, I’ll start with that I want to play hard on every possession. I don’t take possessions off. I’m very high-energy. I’m a high-energy player. I try to make hustle plays, run the floor, just do the little things first and foremost. I kind of want to get across that you’re going to get my 110 percent right off the draw. I will bring everything I can to this organization. Try to complement other guys in terms of playing hard and I know there are a lot of younger guys. I want to just mesh with them and try to build on what they’ve been trying to do this past season.
HM: Have you been told how the team is going to use you this season?
JW: I worked out with the guards [today]. It was me, DeMar and Sonny. With the big guys it was Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi and Joey Dorsey. I feel like this year, with this team what I’m trying to do now as a fourth-year player, it’s about a stamp. That stamp doesn’t mean a position, but it means how you’re going to play. Whether I’m at the four or the three, I want to play the same way. Obviously my defence may be different, but offensively, if you’re able to play defence at a high level from any position, whether it be 3/4 or 4/5 or 2/3, pretty much anything except for the point guard position, you’re going to be just as effective if not more on the offensive end. Your confidence is like, ‘I can stop you. You might be two inches taller than me, but I’m stopping you on this end and I know I’m going to have a mismatch on the other end.’ It doesn’t matter where I play, but how effective can I be based on how we want to play. I haven’t gotten the scheme yet in detail, but I know I’m going to be working with the guards this week so that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’m looking forward to it. This is a new year. A lot of new guys, we’re going to be trying to sort it all out. I just have to do what I’ve got to do and do what they ask of me to the best of my ability.
HM: Do you know most of the guys or is this your first time meeting them?
JW: This is my first time meeting them. I’ve been around Jarrett Jack a little bit because he was cool with Chris Paul. He was down there for charity events and whenever he was in town we’d hang out at Chris’ place. I’m familiar with Jack as a person a little bit. Other than that, I don’t really know anybody on the team.
HM: Last season, the Raptors saw Sonny Weems emerge in training camp and then continue to grow as the season went on. Coming into a new situation where an opportunity is there, is that something that’s ever crossed your mind?
JW: There are 12 to dress, coaches usually have a nine-to-10 man rotation, sometimes eight. I try not to think about it too much right now. At training camp, I think everyone will come in confident and that will give the team a chance to grow because it’ll be a lot of competition. We’ve got a lot of wings and everything but I didn’t work hard this summer for nothing. I’m going to come in confident. I’m going to come in with a chip on my shoulder. Being a [former] first round pick and usually, they come into an organization and try to help win games and for an 82-game season I really haven’t been able to do that and put it all together. I’m definitely looking forward to the opportunity to compete for minutes and just put it all together on both ends. It’s been either all offence, I have a good game, or defence, I’m making something happen. No, I want to put it all together on both ends. I’m looking forward to training camp. I think it’ll be competitive and that’ll help the team in the long run. I’ve definitely paid attention to Sonny Weems’ emergence. Coming here, he had not played big minutes when he was in Denver, but that’s what this is about. You have to stay mentally tough and know that. You have to have confidence in your abilities. That’s how I feel. I’m definitely fired up. I can’t lie about that.
HM: What is the biggest knock on your game and also which aspect gets praised the most?
JW: All right, let’s go with the bad first. I think the biggest knock really has been offensively, with confidence and shooting the ball. Long ball, pretty much 17 feet and out has been an area even defenses have backed down from 19 to 20 feet, and this summer I’ve tried to just shoot those shots and not think about those defences. I have a pretty good lift to my shot. Just shoot the shot. I’ll say I get praised for defence. Being able to guard multiple positions. For the most part, I don’t blow too many defensive assignment covers. I don’t mean I stop everybody, but I’m usually in the right spot to try and make a play. Try to get a deflection, steal or a block. Defensive rebounds. I would say those are the things based on my past three years that have been talked about from the coaching staff to the local writers. That’s what it’s been. It’s a new year and I’m out to prove to myself and to prove to the coaching staff and teammates that I can be counted on, on both sides and be effective. I don’t want to be, ‘Let’s put him in for this.’ I want to be out there whenever my number is called. To be able to do things on both ends. I think that will benefit this team. Guys should be on their toes, fresh and running. It’s exciting. I’m just going to be trying to make plays. I’m getting excited now. I was going to lay down [after this interview], but now I’m up here doing layups and stuff in my room like a little kid. You know like a little kid trying to dunk on an exit sign? Yeah, I’m getting excited.