In Rob Wright III’s first game with Neumann Goretti, he hit a buzzer-beater. The 6-foot guard had driven into the lane and unloaded a floater with just a second left to play.
The clutch bucket handed Wright and the Saints their first win of the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season. It also served as a fitting introduction to a player whose clutch gene would prove to be his biggest asset.
His buzzer-beater showed that when the young guard got a chance, he would capitalize on it.
That disjointed freshman campaign has made Wright even more grateful for the success that he and Neumann Goretti (22-4) have enjoyed this season. After capturing both the District 12 and Catholic League championships, the Saints are marching toward a potential postseason title triple crown. The deciding game in that pursuit will come on Thursday night in Hershey when Neumann Goretti takes on Quaker Valley of Allegheny County for the PIAA Class 4A title.
“It’s felt good because this is like my first real high school season,” Wright said. “Starting and everything, it’s been good to get the full experience of it.”
A full slate of games this year has also allowed coach Carl Arrigale to deploy Wright and backcourt counterpart Khaafiq Myers as a potent scoring duo. The Saints lost a handful of upperclassmen after last season, and Arrigale knew that this year’s group would rely on the sophomores Wright and Myers. The pair has delivered on Arrigale’s hopes.
“When you blend them together out there, when they’re really playing off each other and playing well, they’re really dynamic, [a] tough duo,” Arrigale said. “I think they catch people a little bit off-guard sometimes because they look small.
“Their approach is the same, they’re both fearless.”
Playing fearlessly has become a hallmark of Wright’s game this season, especially on the offensive end. He has emerged as a sharpshooter, and performances like Wright’s 30-point outing in the state semifinals against Dallas — when he hit 7 of 8 three-point attempts — became commonplace. Wright, despite his age, credits experience for his confidence on the floor.
“The older I got, the more I played in big games,” Wright said. “It just got easier, and I got better at it.”
There was perhaps no greater example of Wright’s ability to stay locked-in during big moments than this year’s PCL championship matchup between Neumann Goretti and Archbishop Ryan. In front of a packed house at the Palestra, Wright led all players with 22 points.
“It’s almost like he was born for it,” Arrigale said. “He’s not afraid of any situation, he’s not afraid to be accounted for, he’s not afraid to be counted on. He’s not going to shy away from making a play because it might not go his way. He’s wise beyond his years when it comes to that.
“He wants the ball. He wants to be the guy in the big situations. He wants it on his shoulders. Sometimes you either have that or you don’t, and he definitely has it.”
The sophomore guard adheres to the mantra “eat, sleep, breathe basketball.” After a COVID-19-induced pause halted Neumann Goretti’s season early on, the team faced a busy final few weeks of the season. It became common for Arrigale to tell his players to take a day off and rest. It also became common for Arrigale to see a social media post of Wright working out and putting shots up on those days.
Wright’s gym-rat mentality has been a major key to his fearless factor, and he credits it with helping his clutch performances.
“I just know that I put in a lot of work,” Wright said. “So, whatever the defense gives me, I’m going to do that. I’m just trying to create for myself, create for other players, do whatever I can do.”
In addition to helping Neumann Goretti in its state-title push, Wright’s success has helped him attract recruiting attention from several Division I programs. The class of 2024 recruit already has offers from the likes of Syracuse, Miami, and Wake Forest. It’s still early in Wright’s recruiting process, though, and offers are likely to continue coming. While he will eventually have his pick of schools, Wright’s focus for now is finishing what he and his teammates have started this season.
“I’m happy I’m getting seen by college coaches and getting recruited,” Wright said. “But right now, I’m just focused on winning the state championship.
“I want to be a state champion; that’s one of the goals on my bucket list, so it would be good to check another goal off.”