Walter Wright drives for a layup against Eastern Washington last season (MTN Sports photo).


MISSOULA – When Walter Wright played junior college basketball at Snow College before arriving at the University of Montana, he was the man.

Wright was the kind of player that scored 49 points in a game. He was the kind of player that coaches made special game plans for. The kind that could bring the ball down the court, take it to the rack and score seemingly at will. It was schoolyard ball for Wright, and it was enough to earn him an NJCAA All-America Honorable Mention.

When he made the jump to division-one basketball under Grizzly head coach Travis DeCuire, there was a transition period where Wright had to learn he could still be the man, but as a D-I point guard, he had to help others be the man too.

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“When you take your individual goals, set them aside and jump on board with the team and focus on the team’s goals, usually those individual things come back around to you,” said DeCuire.

And that’s exactly what happened.

It didn’t take long for Wright to adjust to D-I basketball. He put together an impressive first season in the Big Sky where the 5-foot-10 Connecticut native helped lead the Griz to a 21-12 season, gave out 152 assists, and averaged 13.2 points-per-game.

His junior season reached its zenith at the Big Sky tournament in Reno where he scored 50 points in three games, earning a place on the all-tournament team and an All-Big Sky honorable mention.

Observers around the league have taken notice and heading into his senior season, Wright has earned a place on the 2016-17 Big Sky men’s basketball preseason all-conference team.

“I think the conference respects him for what he accomplished last year and how he helped us win, and I think he’s very deserving,” added DeCuire. “I’d expect him to have that type of season again this year, and as unselfish as he is, I think he’ll still produce good numbers.”

Wright will have company as one of the Big Sky’s best guards this season. With no obvious returning big men set to dominate in the post, the preseason all-conference forecast is loaded with ball handlers and not a single forward or center listed among them.

“It’s definitely a guard-heavy league,” which, for DeCuire, isn’t something new in the Big Sky. But with the likes of Martin Breunig and Joel Bolomboy moving on, the conference could have a whole different feel to it. “It should be a very up-tempo season and should be entertaining to our crowds.”

Two of last year’s three leading scorers in the Big Sky return this season and are represented alongside Wright on the preseason all-conference team. North Dakota’s Quinton Hooker (20.1 PPG) and Idaho State’s Ethan Telfair (20.2 PPG) have earned a spot on the team with Hooker taking preseason MVP honors.

Also joining Wright on the preseason team is Weber State’s Jeremy Senglin, who posted the league’s second-best three-point percentage last season, draining 106 of his 245 shots from behind the arc.

Victor Sanders, Idaho’s leading scorer from last year with a 15.9 PPG average earns a nod from the Big Sky voters, as does last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year Tyler Hall of Montana State.

So much competition at the guard position doesn’t worry DeCuire however. If Wright can return to the confidence levels he saw at the end of last season while at the same time managing his assist-to-turnover ratio, the Montana game plan will come to fruition.

“I think for him the key is having the consistency to take off where he left off from last year. If he can do that then I’ll be happy with where we’re at as a team.”

Wright and the Griz begin their quest for a return trip to the Big Sky championship on November 11 at Southern Cal. Montana will play its home opener three days later on Nov. 14 against the Wyoming Cowboys in Missoula.

2016-17 Big Sky Preseason All-Conference Team

Player Year Pos. School Hometown
*Quinton Hooker Sr. G North Dakota Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Jeremy Senglin Sr. G Weber State Arlington, Texas
Ethan Telfair Sr. G Idaho State Coney Island, N.Y.
Victor Sanders Jr. G Idaho Portland, Ore.
Tyler Hall So. G Montana State Rock Island, Ill.
Walter Wright Sr. G Montana Waterbury, Conn.