Like the good ones do at whatever they do, Sherrod Wright took time to enhance his craft. Living the college basketball life, that meant a summer of purposefully firing off jumpers from all angles even though as a sophomore he knocked down shots with regularity. That meant tweaking the other components of his game that simply required more considering the task at hand.
Without the seniors that frequently carried the leadership role during the 2011-12 campaign, Wright's role would be changing. Heading into his junior season, the 6-foot-4 wing's mental game needed adjusting as well and exactly for situations George Mason finds itself right now. The wins are coming, but the point production is lacking - and surging Maryland waits. The local programs meet in the second game of the BB&T Classic doubleheader which tips off Sunday at 12:15 with George Washington against Manhattan.
With three straight wins and a 5-2 record, the Patriots are finding paths to victory even if the trail isn't a thing of beauty, at least not offensively. After leading the CAA in scoring with 70 points per game last season, the Patriots currently rank 302 nationally with 59.6 points. The last two games George Mason managed to triumph despite scoring totals 48 and 55 points.
That's likely not going to cut it against a Terps squad tallying 76 points per game even if the Patriots produce another imposing defensive effort. Behind 7-foot-1 center and potential NBA Draft lottery pick Alex Len, Maryland ranks third in the country in rebounds.
"They're good, they got some size, but we're ready to take on the challenge," said Wright, the only Patriot scoring in double figures at 14.9 points. "In practice we’re just picking our spots, fixing our offense. Well, not fixing it but getting in sync with each other. We have to become cohesive as a group. We’ll be fine.
"I know we’re not where we want to be scoring points wise, but I trust in my team and I know we can make big shots. Not stressing, but we’ve got to put more points on the board."
If that sounds like leader talk, it is. If it comes across as natural for the thoughtful Mount Vernon, NY native, it's not.
"Since I have to be the leader on the team I have to lead by example. I have to find ways to help my teammates, find ways to pick up my teammates. That’s different for me because I’m more of a keep to myself person rather than lead by example. I had to change my mentality and be able to lead, to help others and criticize others so that they could play better, but always a positive message."
If his teammates were following Wright's offensive example, the Patriots would have scant scoring issues. As a sophomore he shot 53 percent from the field, 86 percent at the free throw line, 40 percent from 3-point territory. This season - and despite opposing defenses setting the sights on Wright as Mason's primary weapon - the field goal percentages from inside and outside the arc are comparable. Wright's also yanking down five rebounds per game.
Not that it's all about the numbers.
"Of course you have to work hard over the summer and I did that, working with the coaches on the mid-range, on 3’s, other tools that I need to become a complete player," Wright said. "Mindset wise just had to change how I think on the court. I have to think more about getting people involved or taking over the game when my team needs me. Getting that key stop or getting that key rebound or just picking up my intensity on both ends of the floor."
Wright will be working hard on both ends of the floor against Maryland's stellar wing options, namely Dez Wells and Nick Faust. The fifth start of bruising center Erik Copes career comes against Len, who is averaging 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds, and coming of a double-double Tuesday as the Terps (5-1) won by 20 at Northwestern. Bryon Allen's been a late-game hero, but the Patriots require more from their point guard during the first 39 minutes for there to be a last minute winning opportunity.
"We’re all figuring out our roles," Wright said, "and that includes a different role for me." I’m still learning. It’s early in the season and we still have things we need to do and have to work on. It’s a big step for me and I’m ready for the challenge."