Zaria Wright has exhibited the skill and versatility expected from an experienced basketball player.But the First Assembly guard – who averages 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals per game – is only an eighth-grader. “She’s just an all-around player,” said Eagles coach Bill Middlebrooks.Despite just turning 14, Wright is her team’s go-to player and the focus of its opponents’ attention.“We just kinda look for Zaria,” Middlebrooks said. “We’ve got plays just for her right now.”Wright, a 5-foot-6 point guard, can score points by driving to the basket or by pulling up for jump shots. Through her team’s first 12 games, Wright had a 48 percent field-goal percentage. She was making 31 percent of her 3-pointer attempts.“I just play to score, get my teammates involved,” Wright said.Some teams have shifted to a box-and-one defense – always having a defender guard Wright and playing zone to help slow her down.“We’ve had to be more creative to get her open shots,” Middlebrooks said.Despite Wright’s youth, she’s handling the pressure that comes with being the team’s leader well.“She’s taking it all in stride,” said Middlebrooks. “And the beautiful thing about it is that she doesn’t get a big head.”He admits that when Wright gets frustrated he can see glimpses of her youth – whether it’s turning the ball over or taking a unexpected shot – but he adds that since the holiday break, she’s made fewer mistakes.Middlebrooks saw Wright shooting in gym class last year when he first noticed her. He decided to allow her to play on a deep varsity squad last year as a seventh-grader to give her some experience for the future.“But she ended up starting,” Middlebrooks said.Last season, Wright earned all-conference honors after averaging nearly 10 points per game as the Eagles went 23-4 and made it to the NCISAA 2A state semifinal. First Assembly had five seniors last year, including leading scorer Goddess Steele, so Wright had a shot to learn from watching those girls.She admits that having grown up playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) – both in Michigan and in Charlotte since moving to the University City area four years ago – helped her prepare to face stronger high-school competition.And last year’s experience only made her better.“I learned to play on a faster level, being able to be strong,” Wright said.Middlebrooks said one of the aspects of Wright’s game that has seen the most improvement is her decision-making.In the offseason, she also worked on improving her shooting.The Eagles lost several players from last year to graduation and transfers, so they’ve been forced to play with only seven players on the roster.Wright and her teammates knew that being short-handed would require the team to be at top physical conditioning in the up-tempo, fast-break offense Middlebrooks runs.The coach also is used to pressing, but he’s eased up defensively to give his players more time to catch their breath.“We also use a lot of our timeouts,” said Middlebrooks.Despite its roster size and its youth, First Assembly started the year 9-3 (5-2 in Metrolina Athletic Conference play).Senior Cassady Crawford has been big offensively, averaging 11 points and five rebounds per game.Sophomore Kelsey Adcock (six points per game), junior Henley Guffey (six points) and senior Rylee Troutman (three points) have also contributed for the Eagles.“The girls know their roles, and they play them well,” said Middlebrooks.Wright hopes that her team will give Hickory Grove a run for a conference championship in addition to making another strong appearance at the state tournament.
Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013
Eighth-grader leads First Assembly
Zaria Wright leads Eagles in points, rebounds, assists and steals
First Assembly's Zaria Wright is only in eighth grade, but she is a leader for her team, a position her coach says she handles well. SERGIO TOVAR - firstname.lastname@example.org
First Assembly's Zaria Wright leads her team in points, rebounds, assists and steals despite only being in eighth grade. The Eagles lack depth, only having seven players on their roster this season. SERGIO TOVAR - email@example.com