- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It doesn’t happen with great frequency, but sometimes North Carolina’s Brandan Wright impresses even himself.

His teammates are awed a little more often.

On a team packed with athletes on the verge of a highlight-reel play, Wright nevertheless stands out.

And when the top-seeded Tar Heels (31-6) meet No. 2 Georgetown (29-6) in today’s East Region final at Continental Airlines Arena, another memorable moment might be just a leap away.

Not that anyone knows when it’s coming.

“Things just kind of happen,” Wright said yesterday. “It’s not anything I plan. I’m not going to try to jump as high as I can. I don’t try to think about those types of things.”

Plenty of others will do so for him.

Sophomore guard Bobby Frasor remembers an early-season game when he tossed an errant pass to Wright, who nevertheless continued to rise before his shoulders were well above the rim.

Sophomore forward Danny Green recalls another equally stunning moment. Wright was undeterred when he tossed a layup attempt off the rim, grabbing the rebound and effortlessly putting it back for a dunk.

“At times when he does it, I’m like ‘I wish I could do stuff like that,’ ” Green said. “Every time he steps on the court, he probably does something like that.

“It’s pretty ridiculous how gifted he is.”

That much has been obvious throughout Wright’s superb freshman season. He already has collected the ACC’s rookie of the year and tournament MVP honors, and is averaging 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds on the deepest team in the country.

There was even a play in early January against Florida State that caught Wright’s attention. Reserve guard Quentin Thomas threw him a high pass, so a dunk was out of the question. The Seminoles’ Isaiah Swann was in front of him well off the block, limiting his options.

The solution? Catching it with one hand and just tapping it in, a play that captured the smoothness of Wright’s year.

“I didn’t write anything down on paper or anything before the season started,” Wright said. “I just focused on coming into Carolina and giving a great contribution to a team that I knew was going to be pretty good.”

But he had a decidedly sour performance in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Michigan State.

He scored a career-low three points and battled foul trouble against the chippy Spartans.

It proved a one-night blip. Wright created problems for Southern California throughout Friday’s 74-64 regional semifinal victory, and scored eight of his 21 points during an 18-0 run in the second half that ensured the Tar Heels’ survival.

“I was not worried about Brandan,” coach Roy Williams said. “If Brandan Wright was a worry for me, I was a lucky, lucky individual.”

Wright’s freakish athleticism has naturally prompted chatter of a one-and-done career at North Carolina. He refused to address the subject yesterday and said it would not be a concern until after the Tar Heels’ season is complete.

Whenever it happens, few would argue about Wright’s chances for pro success.

“He has a lot of length and he has a lot of potential,” UNC guard Wayne Ellington said. “Not only that, he’s willing to listen and willing to learn. Because of his skill and his talent, he could be the star of all stars.”

Before long, Wright’s exploits will be well-known on a national scale. For now, the Tar Heels are savoring the jaw-dropping moments that have almost become routine this season.

“No matter how many times you see him do something, it never gets old,” guard Wes Miller said. “Brandan is just out there playing basketball. I don’t think he’s trying to make a highlight play. He’s certainly capable of that and does that all the time, but he’s just out there playing basketball and making basketball decisions on the floor and doing what comes natural to him.”

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