Former Kansas University basketball forward Julian Wright, who speaks in rapid-fire sentences, was rendered speechless Friday afternoon upon entering the Jayhawks’ shiny, new practice facility for the first time.
“I walked in and I was like, ‘Wow,’’’ the 24-year-old Toronto Raptors forward said of the building adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse that opened for business on Aug. 24, 2009. “It took me awhile to get on the court ’cause I kept looking around.
“I almost got emotional. I was in shock,” added Wright, who has completed four full seasons in the NBA.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pounder played pick-up basketball with some of the participants in today’s Legends of the Phog exhibition game, set for a 4 p.m. tipoff in the fieldhouse.
Those who ran the court included some members of KU’s current team, plus NBA players Wright, Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich, the Morris twins and Josh Selby.
“We wanted to put up some shots, get ready for the game,” Wright said. “I’m going to try to run the floor (today), get some highlight plays like in an all-star game. I’m not going to try to be ‘the guy’ or anything, just try to have fun and make big plays in an all-star setting.”
Other NBA players confirmed to play in KU’s sold-out Legends game are Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Paul Pierce and Brandon Rush. In addition, former Jayhawks Nick Bradford, Jeff Graves, Jeff Hawkins, Christian Moody, Ron Kellogg, Greg Ostertag, Scot Pollard, Ryan Robertson, Wayne Simien, Billy Thomas and Darnell Valentine have said they will compete in the game that will be televised on Metro Sports as well as Cox Communications Kansas 22. It can be seen on the Internet via AT&T Jayhawk All Access.
“It’ll be fun being back in Allen Fieldhouse. That’s the biggest part for me because I love the fieldhouse,” said second-year Memphis Grizzlies guard Henry, who played at KU during the 2009-10 season. “Just to go back in there and play again before the fans will be so much fun.”
The 20-year-old Henry is healthy for the first time in a long time. A painful right knee injury that did not require surgery limited him to 38 games his rookie season. He was shut down for good on Feb. 23.
“I had a difficult season with my knee,” Henry said, noting he had “tears in my MCL and stuff like that. At the beginning I was doing all I could to help my team, defensively, offensively. After I hurt my knee, I was not able to do it any more. I’ve done a lot of rehab. I’m basically back to 100 percent now. It was definitely frustrating for a long period of time, but I’m back now.”
Henry, who started 16 games and averaged 4.3 points a game as a rookie, has been working out hard this summer to be ready when NBA camps open following the current work stoppage.
“I’ve not taken too much time off,” Henry said. “I’m in pretty good shape because I know any day now the lockout could end. It could keep going, (but) you might as well be ready. You might as well not take much time off.”
A quick learner, Henry believes he’s ready for a breakout sophomore season with the Grizzlies.
“I get the NBA right now with the game, travel and stuff like that,” the 6-6, 220-pound Henry said. “I still haven’t got a full season under my belt how that’ll be, but I’ve got a good month and a half or so. I can tell what it’s like to play all the time, practice, fly into places late, play the next day and do back-to-back games. It’s definitely fun.”
Fifth-year NBA veteran Wright, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent. He’s coming off a season in which he averaged 3.6 points a game in 52 games. He can’t negotiate with any teams until the lockout ends.
He won’t be thinking about his NBA future today, just nostalgia.
“I feel part of the history here,” said Wright, who played at KU in 2005-06 and ‘06-07. “I love it here. It always feels good to be back here before the fans.”
Pierce in the house
Boston Celtics veteran forward Pierce will play today.
“He is a guy I look up to. His tenacity ... he plays so hard but looks like he’s in slow motion,” Wright said.
“Paul is such a fun guy. He is very generous in what he does off the court,” noted Oklahoma City Thunder center Aldrich. “On the court he is spectacular. I think this is going to be a great chance for Paul to come back and fall in love with the place again.”
Recruits who will be in attendance today include three players who have committed to KU — Zach Peters, 6-9 senior forward, Prestonwood Christian High, Plano, Texas; Perry Ellis, 6-8 senior forward, Wichita Heights; and Conner Frankamp, 6-foot junior guard, Wichita North. Also Andrew White, 6-6 senior forward, Miller School, Chester, Va.; Ioannis Papapetrou, 6-6 senior forward, Florida Air Academy, Melbourne, Fla.; Julius Randle, 6-8 junior forward; and Marquan Botley, 5-10 junior guard, both from Prestonwood Christian, will attend. ... Doors open at 2 p.m. for students and 2:30 for the general public. Parking is free.