Ames junior Clay Wright has a passion for basketball.
He loves to shoot and can’t wait to hit the gym to work on his rebounding, ball handling and defense skills. And since Wright lives right across from Ames High, he never has to wait very long.
“It’s really handy,” Wright said. “I’m able to come down here and shoot when I need to.”
Wright’s journey to becoming a small cyclone required him to travel a much greater distance. He came to Ames last summer from London, England.
“We decided to give Clay the opportunity to try and win a basketball scholarship because it’s his dream to play high school and college basketball,” Clay’s father said, Chris Wright, native of Minnesota. “I have two siblings who all live in the Des Moines area, so this was a good choice for us.”
The Wrights moved to Ames last summer just before school started. Wright had never played ball in high school, but Ames head coach Vance Downs loved what he saw of Wright.
“I saw a drilling movie on YouTube and we were impressed,” Downs said. “Unfortunately, Clay couldn’t play his inter-school seasons in grade 9 or 10. It made the learning curve a little steeper. But he got it right on.”
In 2005-06, Downs coached Australia’s Mark Lacey, the twin brother of former Iowa State women’s basketball great Alison Otzelberger. Otzelberger is the wife of Iowa State men’s basketball coach TJ Otzelberger.
“Clay and Mark have very different skills, but both had to adapt to the structure of interschool basketball very early on,” said Downs. “I’m sure that, like Mark, Clay will continue to improve things and have a solid season.”
Downs was the deciding factor in Wright’s choice to attend Ames.
“He has an unparalleled pedigree in this condition,” said Chris Wright. “I think he can provide the experience and the opportunities that Clay wants.”
Wright jumped at the chance to play for perhaps the best team in Iowa. Ames is placed second in class 4A at the start of the season.
“The training, the organization and the school of basketball in general that they have here – it’s just perfect for me,” said Wright. “I love how intense it is. I like the way it’s organized. We will be working out every day and lifting weights. I love how it’s all about progress. In England basketball is important, but it’s something you do for fun. Here it’s a lifestyle and I love it.
Wright joins a team led by Iowa State rookie Tamin Lipsey and athletic forwards Trevion LaBeaux and Corey Phillips. Wright gives Ames a 6-7 second shooter who can shoot over opposing defenders with Lucas Lueth.
“I’m a playmaker so I like having someone to pass it on,” Lipsey said. “I can be confident that he will reverse the shot.”
But a big part of the reason Wright came to America was to become more than just a shooter.
“I’ve always played the 1, 2 or 3 and (Downs) played me in the 4 or 5,” Wright said. “It helps me get used to getting more bounces and being physical.”
Wright took his pieces against LaBeaux and Phillips in the painting. But he loves the experience.
“It’s pretty tough,” Wright said. “They are some of the strongest guys in our conference, but if I play against them it will only make me better.”
Downs said Wright has already made great strides in several aspects of the game.
“He improved to space the floor, keep and bounce,” Downs said. “He’s probably improved the most defensively.”
Wright is averaging 3.5 points off the bench in Ames’ first three games. As he gets to know his new teammates and what Downs expects from him, Wright’s production will only get better.
“It was a blessing for our team to have him,” said Lipsey. “I feel like he’s learning a lot about the way we play and we love having him here.”
Wright admits he’s faced a little culture shock as he adjusts to life in America. But his teammates fully embraced him.
“We give him a hard time about the accent and the different words he uses that we don’t use, but we’re kidding,” Lipsey said. “It’s cool to have someone from another country on your team. ”
Chris Wright certainly thinks his son is in good hands.
“As a father, I appreciate this opportunity so much and the memories and friendships it builds – which will last forever,” said Chris Wright. “When it comes to basketball he has a lot to learn and he’s still growing minute by minute to 6-7. I hope he will continue to love basketball and meet all of its challenges until what he achieves his team and personal goals to be the best he can be. “
And with his size, touch, and desire, there’s no telling how good Wright will be when all is said and done. He wants to take Iowa by storm over the next two years and grab the attention of college basketball scouts across the country.
“No one really knows about me right now,” Wright said. “I intend to develop my recruitment. Division 1 is what I’m aiming for.