Los Angeles Lakers: Leuzinger High School

"The L.A. In My Game," with Dorell Wright

July, 24, 2011
7/24/11
9:54
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share the various ways growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

There are natural athletes. There are natural athletes who take an unusual path to the NBA. And then there is Golden State Warriors forward and South Los Angeles product Dorell Wright. To put Wright's athleticism in perspective, he didn't take basketball seriously until the 11th grade. Before that, he was passionate about making the big leagues, and even transferred from Washington High School to Leuzinger for its baseball program. A casual invite to meet the basketball coach eventually resulted in a change of athletic priorities. After graduating from Leuzinger, Wright did another senior year at South Kent School, a Connecticut prep school. But rather than better prepare him as planned for the transition to college, South Kent was Wright's last stop before jumping straight to the NBA.

Andy Kamenetzky: Where did you grow up playing?

Dorell Wright: St. Andrew's Park. It was a crazy scene. They were real big on their basketball program down there. We had a lot of guys that went to college. We had a few guys that went to the NBA come out of there. Hassan Adams. Rayshawn Reed. We was probably the three biggest names that came out of there around our age.

Gary Dineen/Getty Images
Dorell Wright became a high school phenom despite not getting serious about basketball until his junior year.



It was definitely tough. Inner-city kids. It's very physical, very competitive. Everybody wants to win. Every year, it was different players coming from different places, because they knew how good the league was and the competition they'd get. We'd go to the different playoffs [between parks] and we're always in the finals or the final four every year.

AK: Do you remember the first eye-opening experience of how physical the play was?

DW: The first game I ever played there, I got fouled hard as heck and hit the ground hard. I knew it was gonna be tough and you had to bring your game every single day. And this is with me being 8 or 9. That first game, I already knew.

AK: You've talked in the past about friends who got caught up in the gangs and violence. How challenging was it to stay on the right track?

DW: It's very tough. I was blessed to have great parents around and to keep me focused and active with baseball, basketball and football. It seemed like I was never staying still. I had a few hours with my friends, but the majority of time I was either working on my game or practicing or at a game.

I'll say one thing about L.A. streets: The streets, they're calling. You see your friends and peers out there, hanging out, things like that. Sometimes it's peer pressure to hang out and be cool just like them. But my mom and dad did a great job just keeping me focused and on the right path. Trying to see bigger things than just being here in L.A. and staying here my whole life in South Central and the inner city.

AK: You were initially much more into baseball than basketball. At what point did basketball become your focus?

DW: Basketball really became serious once I got to Leuzinger High School. I didn't play ninth and 10th grade at Washington just because of my grades and stuff. I was never eligible for basketball. For some reason, I was always eligible for baseball. I knew how much my dad wanted me to play baseball, so I was a little more serious. (Laughs.)

Eleventh grade, I had a subpar year. Averaged like 18 points my first time ever playing on varsity. In 12th grade, we got a new coach, Reggie Morris. He took me to different gyms to work out, so I was spending more time on my game. I averaged 24 points that year, so I felt myself getting better. I was getting a lot of attention from different colleges. Once that happened, I was like, "I might want to do this basketball." I was thinking I could go to some college. This is when Fresno State, Long Beach State, Northern Iowa, all these mid-majors were recruiting me. Not really heavy schools until I got to prep school. It was still not really clicking to me that I could go to the NBA.

AK: Ironically, you transferred to Leuzinger for the baseball program.

DW: Yeah, this is a funny story. We were so bad at Washington. We won one game in two years. My dad was like, "Oh, no. We're out of here!" I was gonna go to Serra in Gardena, but I didn't get a high enough score on the test. So the baseball coach from Serra introduced me to [Joel Romero] the baseball coach from Leuzinger. I decided to go to Leuzinger. Well, my dad decided I was gonna go Leuzinger. (Laughs.)

The first day of school, Coach Romero, we were walking to class and he was like, "The basketball coach is right there. You wanna meet him?" I was like, "Nah," because the previous two years, I wasn't able to play at Washington. "I'm just here to focus on baseball and that's it." He was like, "I'm just gonna let you meet him." So I was like, "All right. Whatever. I'll meet him."

His name was Coach Showalter. He was like, "We're gonna have open gym at the end of the week." I went and just completely killed the whole open gym. I was clearly the best player in there and I was, "You know what? I think I will play."

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