LAFAYETTE — The basketball, the travel, the experience — all of these things were good for Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Jay Wright as he explored China with Sports Reach USA’s men’s basketball friendship tour to the Far East this summer.
Well, at least the other stuff was enjoyable.
“I struggled with the food,” Wright said. “I ate a lot of rice and chicken — it was supposed to be chicken.”
The good news is that Wright gained plenty of valuable on-court experience to go with some life lessons that outweighed his difficulty with the local cuisine.
Plus, the nutritional deficit wasn’t that hard to overcome.
“Jay lost about 6 pounds on the trip,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “Going back to (his hometown of Savannah, Georgia), he spent a week with mom before he came to summer school, and I think he got a couple pounds back.”
Wright was the second Cajuns player to spend the summer with Sports Reach USA recently, joining Elfrid Payton, who went to the Far East in the summer of 2013.
Although Wright and Payton never played together — Wright was signed in part because Marlin correctly figured he might lose Payton early to the NBA draft — Wright said he spoke with Payton about the experience before going.
Food was the primary discussion point, so at least Wright was braced for it. But he also offered some wisdom about improvement.
“I talked to (Payton) a good bit before I left,” Wright said. “He told me to bring a lot of food — snacks and things. He was telling me the more you play is better than just working out. You get better (by) playing.”
Wright averaged 11.7 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in seven games overseas. He scored double digits in all but one with a high of 16, and he turned in five or more assists in four of the seven games.
Those numbers were a bit of an improvement over his statistical output in his first year with the Cajuns, when he averaged 9.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Wright said he entered the summer wanting to work on his left hand, his ball screens and his 3-point shooting, while Marlin added that he needed to become a better free throw shooter. Wright shot 12-of-33 from beyond the arc (36.3 percent) and just 20-of-34 from the free-throw line (58.8 percent) — both of which were well below his rates with the Cajuns last season.
“I’ve still got some more work to do,” Wright said.
But the trip wasn’t just about basketball.
Before he left for Asia, Wright had never been off U.S. soil.
“I had to get a passport and everything,” he said. “I never had to do that. It was real different. I met a couple people from there, and they explained to me about China.”
He said his trip to a foreign land opened his eyes to things he’d “never seen before,” to a scope outside of his normal concept of life.
“It makes you a better person just taking the basketball out of it, being able to witness what else is going on around the world,” Marlin said. “A lot of times we tend to worry about our problems, and just like we tell our team, ‘Let’s go throw them all on a pile and see which ones we want to pull back out. You’ll probably take yours in a second.’
“I think it shows appreciation of life.”
Between games and his immersive cultural training, Wright and his teammates also got some sightseeing in. They made a trip to China’s Great Wall and walked as much of it as they could.
“We walked up the whole thing until you wanted to turn around, because you were walking straight up,” Wright said.
Wright won’t be the last Cajun to play basketball abroad this year. Rising sophomores Johnathan Stove and Bryce Washington will spend a couple of weeks in New Zealand at the end of July to play with the Athletes in Action tour, and redshirt freshman Scotty Plaisance will head to Europe with assistant coach Gus Hauser for another basketball-related trip.
What Marlin is looking for with his team, literally, is a worldly bunch.
“Hopefully it’ll make our life easier in the future,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. We want these guys to grow, to lead and to learn how to interact with people.”