BOULDER — When word began to filter out last week that Colorado point guard McKinley Wright IV would return to CU for his senior season, the common theme was “unfinished business.”
That description clearly fit the bill. A junior year that ended with the Buffs enduring a five-game losing streak, then missing out on an NCAA Tournament appearance because of the Covid-19 pandemic no doubt left a sour taste in Wright’s mouth.
Thus, while Wright did indeed make inquiries into a possible jump to the NBA and foregoing his senior year with the Buffaloes, it was by no means a major surprise when he chose to return to Boulder and finish his college eligibility.
But that unfinished business also includes more than just one more year with the Buffs and one last chance at what has thus far been an elusive NCAA Tournament berth.
Wright also has a chance to accomplish something no one in his family has ever done.
“I’ll be the first in my family to get a college degree,” Wright said Wednesday in a conference call with the media. “My grandparents are really excited about that, my parents are excited about that and I’m excited about it.”
Granted, Wright could have chased a pro career, then finished his degree at a later date. But after testing the NBA waters and speaking with a long list of teams, he decided the timing wasn’t right — and the opportunities in Boulder were something he couldn’t pass up.
That includes getting a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, something no one on CU’s current roster has done. The Buffs’ last NCAA appearance came in 2016.
“A childhood dream is March Madness,” Wright said. “I’ve been watching that since I was a kid. I’ve seen guys at my position perform at a high level and win at a high level in that tournament. It’s something I always wanted to be a part of … I feel like we’ve got a real good chance of going back there this year.”
Wright knows he will have to accomplish that feat in the upcoming season without trusted sidekick Tyler Bey. The two came to Boulder together as freshmen, but Bey has opted to move on to the next level.
That doesn’t, however, mean that the cupboard is bare by any means. There is plenty of returning talent to join Wright for the 2020-21 season, as well as some promising newcomers and youngsters.
Key returnees include senior starting forward D’Shawn Schwartz, starting junior big man Evan Battey, guard Eli Parquet and center Dallas Walton. Wright is also excited about the potential of redshirt freshman guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, who could give the Buffs one of the most potent backcourts in the Pac-12 when paired with Wright.
“We lost some key guys,” Wright said. “But we’re bringing in guys that can replace them.”
Wright, though, will no doubt still be the straw that stirs the drink. A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, he led CU last season in scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (5.0) and was third in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and 3-point field goals (39).
Now, he said, his goal is to improve his all-around game while paying extra attention to the areas the NBA folks told him he needed to work on. Those include his assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point shooting — areas that are non-negotiable for a next-level guard.
Thus, despite the restrictions of the pandemic shutdown, Wright has had what he believes is his best offseason ever.
“Last offseason I thought I worked hard but it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in for this year,” he said. “This is my last go-round. I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament, we want to win a lot of games.”
One thing he wants to end in a hurry?
That five-game losing streak at the end of last season. Under normal circumstances, the Buffs would have almost certainly had a chance to end that streak in the NCAA Tournament. But now, that is the last memory Wright and his teammates have of last season, and it’s a memory they want to erase as soon as possible.
“We know that doesn’t define us,” he said. “We’ve been in big-time situations and performed at high levels. My main focus right now is being with my team, getting sharper, competing for a Pac-12 championship and getting my degree.”
Indeed — and McKinley Wright IV is anxious to get back to work.