The hundreds of fans who walked up to Justin Wright-Foreman during Hofstra’s three-game homestand from Feb. 8-15 all remembered what he did for the school over the last three years
As he greeted the throngs of friendly, familiar faces, Wright-Foreman remembered all the school and the fans did for him before that.
Nobody knew Wright-Foreman was going to end up the second-most prolific scorer in school history from Feb. 7-13, 2016, when a quiet freshman scored two points in 11 minutes over a three-game span against James Madison, William & Mary and Delaware from Feb. 7-13, 2016.
And that’s just the three-game sample from the closest and most convenient spot on the calendar. There was a three-game span from Jan. 14-21, 2016 in which Wright-Foreman didn’t play. And the six-game span from Dec. 6-31, 2015, in which Wright-Foreman didn’t score while playing just nine minutes and recording two DNP-CDs.
Throughout his freshman season, Wright-Foreman was about far as from the NBA as humanly possible. But the youngest player on the roster — Wright-Foreman didn’t turn 18 until October 2015 — was appreciative to be made to feel part of the team, despite his age and his infrequent playing time and particularly when he received the tough love every freshman needs at some point during his first year of college.
“Just the culture of everything and how everybody treated me when I was here, this place will always hold a special place in my heart,” Wright-Foreman said following the 78-64 win over UNC Wilmington on Saturday that capped a 3-0 homestand for Hofstra and established the Pride as the favorite to win the CAA’s regular season crown. “They didn’t have to offer me a scholarship (five) years ago. They didn’t have to put me on a team my freshman year.
“They didn’t have to do anything. They didn’t have to be the guys who ask you ‘Do you need anything? Are you OK?’ Or offer tutoring, where I met Rachel Peel (-MacAndrew) and she begins to take me under her wing and helped me with my assignments, having me in a room (saying) ‘Listen, kid, do your work, get this work done, you’re going to have a 3.0.’ Just someone like that being in your corner and telling you what you don’t want to hear, but what you need to hear. That was the most important part.”
There were stern words outside of study halls, too. Wright-Foreman confided in assistant coach Craig “Speedy” Claxton throughout a freshman season in which Wright-Foreman scored just 44 points — a total he’d exceed against William & Mary on Feb. 9, 2018, when he tied a single-game school record with 48 points. Claxton, who went from a Queens high school to Hofstra to the NBA, regularly hoisted shots with Wright-Foreman, but also reminded him why he wasn’t playing as often as he’d like and the elements of his game that still needed fine-tuning.
Wright-Foreman hit his nadir during the first month of his sophomore season in the fall of 2016, when he averaged 11.4 points per game and recorded four double-digit efforts over his first seven games before a three-game span from Nov. 29-Dec. 6 in which he scored eight points over 47 minutes and went scoreless against St. Bonaventure.
Wright-Foreman recalled last year that if he had to measure his readiness to transfer on a scale of 1 to 10, he was at an “8” following his three-game slump. Of course, he stayed, and in his next game, Wright-Foreman scored 14 points in the final six minutes against Kentucky — the first of his school-record 88 consecutive double-digit scoring efforts. He finished fifth and second in the nation, respectively, in scoring in his junior and senior years, when he won back-to-back CAA Player of the Year awards, went viral at least once and led Hofstra to 46 wins.
Along the way, he got to know a bunch of familiar faces. For better and for worse, Hofstra doesn’t have much of a bandwagon. The fans who were there for Wright-Foreman’s emergence as a sophomore, his ascension to superstardom as a junior and his development into an NBA-caliber player as a senior were also there watching him when he was a little-used freshman.
Everyone knew his back story and appreciated where he’d come from, which was why Wright-Foreman greeted his former teammates with the same enthusiasm he displayed towards public safety workers, cafeteria employees, Hofstra dance team members and fans of every age.
“I’m coming here to see everybody,” Wright-Foreman said. “Because everybody here saw everything that happened to me during my freshman year and supported me all along.”
Watching Wright-Foreman mingling and moving easily between sections at the Mack Complex during the games against Northeastern, Charleston and UNC Wilmington generated memories from almost a quarter-century ago, when Hofstra’s original late bloomer turned superstar, Wayne Chrebet, transitioned to the world of professional sports while keeping one foot firmly rooted on campus.
Chrebet had 36 catches for 309 yards and six touchdowns in his first two seasons before busting out for 114 receptions, 1,988 yards and 25 touchdowns in his final two campaigns in 1993 and 1994. He parlayed that success into a tryout with the Jets, who used to practice at Hofstra and signed him to a contract in the spring of 1995. Eleven years later, he ranked second in franchise history in receptions and third in both touchdowns and receiving yards.
As a rookie, Chrebet lived with former teammates a few blocks from campus and often sat in the stands for football games, which were played on Friday nights. In the spring of 2000, he attended the America East men’s basketball title game against Delaware and joined the masses in storming the floor after Hofstra’s 76-67 victory.
Wright-Foreman would probably live with ex-teammates if he could, but the commute between Hempstead and Salt Lake City is about 33 hours by car. His storybook entry into pro sports involved being drafted by the Utah Jazz alongside a former CAA rival in Charleston’s Jarrell Brantley, who is his teammate with the Jazz’s G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
So Wright-Foreman had to cram as many memories as possible into his time off during the NBA All-Star break. Fortunately for Wright-Foreman, he got some ammunition for trash talk with Brantley by watching the Pride lead Charleston from start to finish last Thursday in 76-63 victory. And last Saturday, after watching Joe Mihalich earn his 400th career win, Wright-Foreman shared a warm, poignant embrace with his head coach before heading into the locker room to hang out with former teammates.
On Sunday, Wright-Foreman headed back west to resume the G-League season. He’ll be watching from afar — via his laptop and the daily updates he receives from his best friend, Hofstra point guard Desure Buie — as the Pride tries to take the final step it could not complete last year, when it fell to Northeastern in the CAA tournament title game despite 29 points from Wright-Foreman.
He’ll do so while maintaining a strong connection back home, almost 2,300 miles away, to a fanbase that’s followed him from the end of the Pride bench to the doorstop of the NBA.
“Everybody here — from the coaches to the lunch people to everybody, I ran into my best friend over here,” Wright-Foreman said. “The bonds that you make here are incredible. This place will forever, forever have a place in my heart. I’m extremely grateful for everything that anybody has done for me here.”