Wright choice: Former Jefferson star signs with Duquesne

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If Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright had the whole recruiting process to do over, he wouldn’t change a thing. There were plenty of bumps in the road — such as his struggles to qualify academically and decommitting from Fordham and Manhattan.

But Wright has landed at his dream school – Duquesne University. The former Thomas Jefferson standout signed a financial aid agreement with the Pittsburgh school Friday afternoon.

“I think this was a blessing,” said Wright, who spent a postgraduate year at Central Carolina Sports Academy (N.C.) and CJEOTO Academy (N.J.). “The bad times paid off. I love the Duquesne campus, I love the environment. After meeting with everyone, I knew it was the right place for me.”

Wright chose Duquesne over Hofstra (his second choice), Robert Morris, Rice, Rutgers, and Providence. He grew close with the Dukes’ coaching staff, particularly fourth-year head man Ron Everhart, during his official visit there this week. The two talked about basketball and life, and Wright met Everhart’s family. Eventually, the relationship between the two won Wright over.

“In the space of three days, he showed me he isn’t only a coach, but a good person, too. He’s like a father figure,” Wright said. “He has a chip on his shoulder and so do I. I was left in the dirt by a lot of people who didn’t take a chance on me. He told me he’s gonna be happy to coach me and I’m gonna be happy to play for him. The love is mutual on both sides.”

There are red flags regarding the talented Wright, a 6-foot-5 small forward who averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds per game for the Orange Wave in 2009. He has decommitted from two schools and battled technical foul problems in high school. Of course, he left Fordham after coach Dereck Whittenburg was let go — a common occurrence — and the issue at Manhattan wasn’t cut and dry.

Wright said he was asked to sign his National Letter of Intent before he qualified academically, which he wasn’t comfortable doing. When he did qualify, Wright said he was told there were no scholarships remaining for the upcoming year.

On the court, Wright is a handful for the opposition, one Division I assistant coach involved in his recruitment said.

“He’s versatile, he can really jump and shoot the ball,” the coach said. “For a combo forward, he can also play well out of double teams. He’s a Big East caliber player.”

That’s music to Duquesne’s ears. The Dukes are coming off a mediocre 16-16 season, but won 21 games the year before — the most since the 1970-71 season — and have reached the postseason two years in a row. Wright takes up the program’s last scholarship for the upcoming year.

“I feel like I’m where I want to be,” Wright said. “We’re going to be a great program.”

Updated 2:44 pm, October 19, 2011
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