Erikk Wright can still hear his voice, imploring him to work harder, to hone his ballhandling skills, to get some range on his jumper. Uncle Emein meant a lot to a budding basketball star, because he had hopes and dreams for his nephew that Erikk himself couldn't fathom at the time. Uncle Emein saw the future before the future arrived.
It's why Wright can envision him there, sitting on the rim each time the 6-3 Chester High junior is on the court. It's why each time Wright looks like he's about to jump through the ceiling, he's merely shaking his uncle's hand. That's the way Wright sees it.
Uncle Emein isn't around anymore. He died when Wright was in sixth grade, but he still remembers his father's brother. Wright would like to think he's smiling down on him as he leads the Clippers this season, after Chester experienced what could be defined as an un-Chester-like season last year.
Wright returns as one of the best basketball players in Southeastern Pennsylvania, averaging a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds a game last year as a sophomore. He's a complete player, handling all the dirty work for the Clippers - rebounding, interior defense, blocking shots, manning up against far larger players - plus, he has the added dimensions of a 15-foot jumper, ability to create his own shot and a new wrinkle this season - three-point range.
The Clippers were 16-11 in 2009-10 with a very young team that returns 10 players. A record of 16-11 can be acceptable in a lot of places, but not Chester, a perennial power that annually goes deep in the state playoffs and has won six state titles (1983, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2005 and 2008).
Last year, Clippers coach Larry Yarbray had his hands full juggling a young team that was beset by injuries to key players. The one constant was Wright - a matchup nightmare for opposing teams that couldn't cover him with a big man because Wright is too quick, and had trouble putting a smaller player on Wright, who often overpowered them with his strength and jumping ability.
"Erikk experienced the good times 2 years ago, and the bumps and bruises last year," Yarbray said. "Erikk's rebounding and controlling the lane will be big things for us this year. Erikk's been working on his ballhandling, and he's a legit guard, honestly, but we're looking for him to score and do all the dirty work he did so well last year."
"Last year wasn't a Chester year," said Clippers senior guard Maurice Nelson, the younger brother of Jameer Nelson. "We were a young team that was learning as we went along. We didn't do a lot of the little things to win games, like make foul shots at the end of games. This year, we're turning it around and Erikk is going to be a big part of that."
Wright actually plays out of position for the Clippers, quite undersized near the basket, especially when it comes to dealing with state-championship contender Penn Wood's 6-9 Shawn Oakman, 6-8 Darian Barnes and 6-6 Aaron Brown. But Wright has added 15 pounds of muscle since last winter, and is benching 265 pounds. And his leaping ability is phenomenal.
Yes, he's 6-3, but don't tell Erikk Wright that. He plays like he's 7-foot.
"Wherever coach Yarbray needs me to play, I'll play," Wright said. "I love contact. I like playing against bigger guys, I always have. I think we have some things to prove this year. Last year was a little tough on us. We were a young team that didn't have much height, and I thought we lost to a lot of teams we should have beaten."
And somewhere in there lies Wright's special motivation. His father, Erikk Sr., and grandfather introduced Erikk to the game. But it was his Uncle Emein who pushed him to think bigger and work harder.
"I remember coming home from school and my parents sitting me down, telling me my uncle was dead," Wright recalled. "I was in sixth grade, but before each game, I still remember him. He'd work with me on everything. It's why I can see him sitting there on the rim, calling me. Maybe it's why I can jump so well. Every time I dunk, it's like I'm jumping up and shaking his hand."