By Amy Mulligan, Virginia Media Relations
Here is what most people know about Monica Wright: she came to Virginia as a high school All-American and one of the highest-rated recruits in school history. Hailing from Woodbridge, Va., she chose to stay in-state and attend the University of Virginia and has since risen to every challenge she has faced during her first three years on Grounds.
The ACC Freshman of the Year in 2006-07, Wright lived up to the hype of her recruitment and emerged as one of the most dynamic players in arguably the toughest league in the country. After All-ACC seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09, she now has the opportunity to leave UVa as an All-American and the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Here is what you might not know about her: Monica Wright practices Beyoncé’s dance moves in her room with the same resolve that she perfects her jumpshot. She can crack up any member of the basketball team with a well-timed and dead-on impression just as well as she can issue an inspirational call to action in the huddle. And although she competes on the court with the unwavering intensity of a die-hard competitor, if you were to see her in John Paul Jones Arena on any other day than game day, she would likely be walking with a smile on her face before stopping to say hello.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because Wright is the rare student-athlete whose extraordinary athletic talents are only surpassed by her charismatic personality.
“I wear the Virginia jersey and when you look back on all the players that have come through the program there is a definite personality type that fits a Virginia women’s basketball player,” Wright says. “When I think of players like Dawn Staley, Jenny Boucek, Dena Evans and Wendy Palmer, just to name a few, I think they are similar in a lot of ways when it comes to balancing academics with basketball, having a competitive spirit and having intelligence for the game. It’s about having more to you than just basketball, it’s about being a well-rounded person.”
Wright’s basketball accomplishments speak for themselves. She is an Associated Press Preseason All-American, is on the preseason list for every major national player of the year award, is the ACC Player of the Year and could potentially break UVa’s all-time scoring record (2,135 points), which has stood for 17 seasons. Heading into her senior campaign, she has totaled 1,806 career points and is 330 points away from surpassing Dawn Staley as the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer.
A first team All-ACC selection last year, Wright led the ACC in scoring (20.5 points per game) and set Virginia’s single-season scoring record with 696 points.
With all those accolades on her athletic resumé, it might come as a surprise that when Virginia head coach Debbie Ryan is asked about her senior captain, it’s not basketball that comes to her mind first.
“Monica is a special person,” Ryan says. “She’s not someone who you ever have to worry about. She has extremely good character, she’s a natural leader and the players admire her. She has no problems with establishing her role as captain. People flock to her and she’s a people person. As far as her being an All-American, I think Monica has already developed a very good ability to score the basketball and play great defense. She’s the consummate all-around player.”
Those thoughts are echoed by her teammates.
“Obviously people focus on the basketball part when talking about Monica,” sophomore Chelsea Shine says. “But in situations in practice, not only does she have the ability to not let fatigue get to her at all, she can pick up other players and make them better. She doesn’t speak negatively about people, she would rather stay positive and push people across the finish line.”
Wright is a passionate player on the court, but she is just as enthusiastic about her future after basketball as she is about her unfinished business at Virginia.
“As far as my senior year goes, I do feel like I have some unfinished business,” Wright says. “Since I’ve been here, Virginia has not beaten some of the teams I’ve wanted to beat in the ACC or won the ACC Championship. Winning an NCAA Championship is obviously something on my list that I haven’t been able to check off yet, either.
“I hope my body allows me to play basketball for as long as I can, but after that I want to give back. Not only would I like to give back to players like myself who want to play in college, I’d like to find a way to help girls who need to go to college but don’t have the same opportunities. Not everyone has money for college, and not everyone is born into wealth.”
The responsibility that comes with being a Virginia women’s basketball player is never far from her mind. This summer, Wright attended a college session of Point Guard College in Hagerston, Md. The director of Point Guard College is former UVa standout Dena Evans.
Wright says it was a “retreat-like” experience to attend the session and would like to see every guard in the Virginia program attend during their career.
“When I leave Virginia, it’s important to me to help players get better and pursue their dreams,” Wright says. “If you have a love of basketball and you’re willing to work hard, you’ll get to the next level. But it’s also about being a good person and a respectable woman. I want to do what Coach Ryan does – which is help us become better women.”
Wright’s legacy as one of the elite players to ever come through the program is firmly established, but her influence on those around her extends well beyond the basketball court.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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