The Wright Stuff

Hofstra's Slick Young Coach Takes a Small School to the Big Time

He was a standout nonetheless, earning team MVP honors as a senior. Instead of taking a shot at playing overseas, Wright worked for the football Philadelphia Stars of the USFL after graduation. A year later, he switched back to basketball, taking an assistant's job at the University of Rochester. Two seasons later, he moved on to Drexel, then climbed the ladder to become an assistant at Villanova under Rollie Massimino, whom Wright knew from working at his basketball camps.

"That was a dream," recalls Wright. "Villanova was my favorite team and Rollie was my idol." At 'Nova, Wright says Massimino treated his players and coaches as family. "You would go to all his family's christenings, his family's Christmases—his family's, not your family's," Wright remembers fondly. "He really believed in that. He wanted to take care of you. He wanted to have you with him."

When the Hofstra job opened, Wright applied for the position—but was rejected. That is, until Massimino, the don, recommended Wright. It was an offer Hofstra simply could not refuse.

Riley Jr.: Wright Waves on the troops.
photo: Pete Kuhns
Riley Jr.: Wright Waves on the troops.

Now, Wright is working around the clock to keep Hofstra in the big time. "It's hard to get a head coaching job," Wright says, lowering his voice. "It don't matter how good you are. That's why when you get it, you gotta cherish it."

Meanwhile other schools would cherish having Wright on their sidelines. The coach, who is married with three children, has turned down an estimated $200,000 Fordham gig and an interview with Rhode Island in recent years (he currently makes an estimated $150,000 to $175,000). But while Wright says he is content at Hofstra, others predict that he will not be there much longer. "He will be coaching at the highest level," says Vermont's Brennan. "In the next three or four years, I'd be shocked if he were still the coach at Hofstra."

But while he is there, things continue to improve. Hofstra has three of the city's best hoop stars signed for next season (point guard Woody Souffrant from Grady, off guard Chris McRae out of St. Raymonds, and Archbishop Molloy big man Wendell Gibson). And starting in 2002, Hofstra will move up to the more significant Colonial Athletic Association.

And while the success continues, Wright has continued Massimino's family spirit. "He's always talking to the guys, letting them know that he cares," says point guard Jason Hernandez, a fifth-year senior, husband, and father—not to mention an MBA candidate. "He has been able to take me aside when I've had some problems. I automatically know I can go to him first."

Current players are not the only ones feeling the love. Coach Van Breda Kolff often sits on the team's bench during games. Tom Marich and Tim Beckett, ex-players turned Wall Street big shots, purchased a luxury box in Hofstra's new arena. And Speedy Claxton (who has been recovering from a torn ACL) drops by from time to time to visit his former team.

They all enjoy themselves on most nights—because these days coach Wright has his Pride playing almost as well as he dresses.

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