It was a promise Lawrence Pollard didn’t want to keep.
The Thomas Jefferson boys’ basketball coach told his star junior forward, Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright, a few days ago that if Wright was able to get at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in the team’s showdown against Boys & Girls, he would give him a pair of brand new, limited edition Adidas sneakers.
Wright responded with 24 points, 23 rebounds and four blocked shots in a dominant performance as Jefferson knocked off last year’s city runner-up Boys, 73-58, on Tuesday night at home in a PSAL Brooklyn AA game.
“I didn’t want to give him those sneakers,” Pollard said with a smile. “But he deserves them.”
The 6-foot-6, athletic big man wasn’t just motivated by the shoes – although they were definitely a pair he wanted. He came into school Tuesday early, because he was tossing and turning all night and he couldn’t sleep. Pollard thinks because he was already hyped for the game.
It took Wright a whole half to “calm down” as Pollard put it, but then he took off. He completely dominated the fourth quarter with 10 points, three blocks and a steal with an assist on the other end of the fast break.
“I just hit that button,” Wright said of the second half. “That’s time to release the beast.”
Jefferson (3-0) was actually down, 31-30, at halftime and Boys (2-1) was imposing its will. It was also close – 45-42 in favor of the Orange Wave – going into the fourth quarter. That’s where Kangaroos coach Ruth Lovelace thinks the game was won. Jeff, especially Wright, utilized its height advantage best in the final frame.
“We probably got outworked in the fourth quarter,” she said.
Senior guard Keith Spellman had 16 points for the Orange Wave and sophomore Davontay Grace added 10 points. Junior forward Leroy Isler led the way for Boys & Girls with 13 points, sophomore guard Mike Taylor, who was trying to fight off a box-and-one defense, had 12 points and Jeffland Neverson chipped in 11 points.
“I think we’re more talented than them,” said Pollard, who went to high school with Lovelace at Boys. “We should beat them on our home court.”
Pollard also thinks the sky – no pun intended for someone nicknamed Air Jamaica because of his Caribbean heritage – is the limit for Wright. There were a few college coaches in attendance, notably Kimani Young of St. John’s, but the coach said his 11th grader is being severely under-recruited.
“There are a lot of local schools here looking elsewhere,” he said. “You got a beast right here at home in the East. … I don’t think there’s a better power forward in the city.”
Wright brushed off that remark, saying he can’t buy into those labels. Labels are no good. But sneakers? They’re more than fine for this budding superstar.
“I’m gonna get plenty more kicks,” Wright said, “if I keep working hard.”