Wright is heart of it all for Heels Western alum provides quiet, but critical role

January 18, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Among all the stars who play for the seventh-ranked North Carolina women's basketball team, it is easy to overlook Chanel Wright.

First, there's Tracy Reid, a strong All-America candidate who had 42 points and 14 rebounds Thursday night in a 105-100, triple-overtime loss to Virginia.

Then there is Frederick's Nikki Teasley, everyone's choice as the top high school player last year during her senior season at St. John's Prospect Hall. Then there's Jessica Gaspar, then Juana Brown. All but forgotten is Wright, the team's second-leading scorer at 13.0 points per game and perhaps the glue on a talented team.

"She's our unsung hero," Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "After each game, we have this extensive grading sheet; it takes us about four hours to grade. Chanel always grades out extremely high. She never has a bad game defensively. Just a real solid player."

This season, Wright finds herself among the league leaders in scoring, assists and steals, while helping the Tar Heels to a 13-3 record (4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) coming into today's 4 p.m. game against Maryland (9-7, 2-4) at Cole Field House.

Today's game is the annual quasi-home game for Wright, who was twice named Baltimore's top high school player while at Western.

"It's a great opportunity to play in front of friends and family, just to play in front of the hometown," said Wright, whose mother would normally drive five hours to see all of Carolina's games in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Mostly a scorer in high school, Wright said her game has grown to the point where she often plays the lead guard position for portions of games. She was the main ball-handler during the time that Teasley was out with a knee injury, something she never could have imagined doing before coming to Carolina.

Now she plays the lead,- second- and third-guard positions during the course of a game.

"It makes me more of a threat when I can play more than one position," said Wright, who described herself as a one-dimensional player when she left Western. "It's helped me to handle the ball more, though it took me a while to get used to it."

In addition, Wright has tried to serve as something as an example for the rest of the Tar Heels, who are fairly young, with four freshmen. She said she has tried to help teach the mental toughness to her teammates that she gained through the years, culminating with her game-tying shot against Michigan State in last spring's NCAA tournament.

"The freshmen aren't doing a bad job, but they're still learning," Wright said. "Defense plays a big part in the college transition. When I first got here, I was 17 years old and I was playing against women who were 23 years old."

The loss to Virginia makes today's game an important one for the Tar Heels, now two games behind North Carolina State, with a game Thursday against the Wolfpack looming. The win also would be the 500th for Hatchell, in her 11th year at Carolina.

But this game is probably more important for Maryland, coming off a 64-56 loss to N.C. State and searching for its first solid performance since a 74-60 win over South Carolina on Dec. 29.

The Terps won seven games in a row early in the season, but with seven potentially effective players playing against teams that go 10-deep or more, coach Chris Weller finds her team at a disadvantage going into the tougher part of the schedule.

"I wish I had a deeper bench, but we can't do anything about that," Weller said about how her team could improve. To offset the lack of bodies, she said the team would try a slower tempo. "We're better off keeping the game in the 50s and 60s, just because we don't have as much depth," she said.

After today's game with North Carolina, it's back on the road for Maryland, with games at Florida State and Georgia Tech on Friday and Jan. 26.

Though the competition is relatively weak compared with what the Terps have been facing, the team has yet to win a road game this season.

Add to that a home date with 25th-ranked Duke on Jan. 30, then a trip to face a Wake Forest team that gave the Terrapins fits at Cole Field House two weeks ago, and it would behoove Maryland to do its utmost to pull off an upset today.

"It's always important to win home games in the ACC," Weller said. "If you're going to stay competitive, you have to win home games, so it's critical."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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