LAS VEGAS — As Justin Wright-Foreman entered his junior season at Hofstra University, head coach Joe Mihalich requested a one-on-one meeting with the star guard.
“When we’re at practice, who’s the player from our team you hope that doesn’t guard you?” Mihalich asked Wright-Foreman in his office. “Like you don’t want them to guard you because it’s just gonna be tough…”
With a straight face, Wright-Foreman responded with, “Coach, it doesn’t matter who guards me.”
And he meant every word of it because by his senior season, the Queens, New York native was the NCAA’s second-leading scorer in the nation, averaging 27.1 points. Those stats eventually intrigued the Utah Jazz brass enough to select him with the 53rd overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft in June.
“Look, he’s got this one gift, he can score. That’s his gift, that he can score,” Mihalich told the Deseret News. “It’s not the only thing he can do, he’s a better than you can believe passer, but he can just score, and it doesn’t matter who’s guarding him.
“The bigger the game, the brighter the lights, the better he is,” he continued. “He’s fearless.”
Wright-Foreman wasn’t with the Jazz’s summer league roster in Las Vegas on Thursday against the Houston Rockets, due to personal reasons. Utah would lose, 87-78, to fall to 2-2 in Sin City action.
However, even after proving himself throughout the college ranks as the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons, Wright-Foreman is still learning to adjust to the point guard position full-time after being such a lethal scorer at Hofstra. Jazz assistants Johnnie Bryant and Lamar Skeeter remain patient in showing him the ropes as he fights for a regular season roster spot.
In his two Las Vegas Summer League appearances, Wright-Foreman put up 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 24 percent shooting after averaging 13.0 points on 41 percent shooting during the Salt Lake City Summer League games.
“The biggest thing with Justin, he’s learning how to play with other guys,” Bryant said. “When he played at Hofstra, obviously, he scored the basketball; so right now, it’s just being able to recognize when to score, when to pass.”
One thing about Wright-Foreman that hasn’t wavered is his confidence. His heavy East Coast accent isn’t hard to hear as he’s chatting with teammates on the hardwood. He was the only New York City player to be picked in this year’s draft and wears that as a badge of honor.
“You have to have that on the court,” Wright-Foreman said of his New York edge. “You have to be gritty to play in New York basketball, especially like growing up and playing at the parks and stuff. So, you have to bring that, especially out here, because nobody’s going to give you nothing.”
In New York, Wright-Foreman’s go-to spots were Brookfield and Cambria Park. He would also seek open runs throughout Long Island to improve his skills. However, he isn’t the only New York player on the Jazz’s summer league roster, joining Mount Vernon native Isaiah Cousins. The two have clicked instantly.
“It’s cool because we’re so far away from home that it brings that culture,” Cousins said. “We know each other, and we know where we’re from, so we kind of understand each other.
“It definitely keeps us competitive, keeps us going and it motivates us because we’re playing together and it just feels like we’re back in New York,” he added.
Cousins describes New York ballers as players that “got a lot of sauce.”Comment on this story
“They talk a lot of trash, very aggressive,” Cousins listed. “They’ve got a lot of handles; some can’t shoot but some can.”
And in Wright-Foreman, the Jazz have found an authentic New York product, but now they have to mold him to fit into the system without taking away too many of his strengths in the process. Both sides seem to be up for the challenge.
“Nothing was ever given to me, so I earned everything I got … late nights in the gym and I’m just happy to be in this moment,” said Wright-Foreman.