Cam Wright's junior season might be remembered more for what he did while holding court than what he did on the court. Following a blowout of short-handed Colorado, March Madness media asked Wright about the daunting task of facing top-seeded Florida.
"The University of Pittsburgh is never intimidated by anyone," he proclaimed. "Whether it's academics...whether it's basketball, football, another sport..."
Unfortunately, his performance against the Gators didn't match his hubris. Billy Donovan's defense held Jamie Dixon's starting 2 guard to seven points on 3-for-10 shooting, and Pitt's season ended with a lopsided loss in the round of 32.
Wright's play at the outset of the season was encouraging. He dazzled in the annual City Game at CONSOL Energy Center, leading the Panthers with 20 points in an 84-67 romp over Duquesne Nov. 30. That was part of a run of six straight games in which Wright hit double figures.
Conference action did not necessarily see a drop in productivity; Wright hovered around his ultimate 10.5 points-per-game average. But he shot inconsistently and seemed to disappear for stretches of play, including post-season play, in which he went under 35 percent from the field.
In key home games against Duke and Syracuse he combined for just 15 points and committed ugly turnovers against the Blue Devils as that game slipped out of the Panthers' hands.
In their pivotal regular season finale at Clemson he stepped up with 16 points, five assists and four steals. In Pitt's previous game, another must-win situation versus N.C. State, he attempted—and missed—only one shot all night.
Now about those academics...
Wright was given the Skip Prosser Award, given annually to the most outstanding student in ACC men's basketball, on Mar. 13. He was one of a league-high four Panthers selected to the ACC All-Academic Team. Previously, he was a three-time Big East All-Academic selection.
College sports, particularly basketball, are no longer just activities. Today, like everything else in America, college basketball is an industry. We are distracted by the stakes of the games these young men play. In the meantime, it's easy for us to forget we're discussing student athletes.
It's also easy for us to forget that many of them play those games with no other expectations than to be able to do what they love, represent their school to the best of their ability and get an education all at once. Admittedly, when they excel at getting that education, we don't always give them their due credit.
Sometimes Dixon gets too much blame when things go wrong, and sometimes he doesn't get enough kudos when things go right. His teams might not always win. But they have always graduated. Again, given our own innate desire to be entertained, and given the alleged corruption of college sports that is gaining attention in our country, we probably don't celebrate that enough.
Four out of every five men who have played for Dixon at Pitt have earned degrees from the university. Wright, a business-marketing major, is on track to join that majority. In that respect, he's a poster child for this program.
On the court, for all my leniency, I can't justify giving Cam anything more than a "B." Off the court, however, he's an "A" all the way.