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Delon Wright and the road less traveled to college stardom

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Meet Delon Wright, Utah’s do-it-all guard. He comes from a family you know well, but from a background unlike most NBA prospects.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Even if you don't know much about Delon Wright -- who is he, where he came from, and how he got to Utah -- it only takes one look at his numbers to be impressed. The Utes freshman is posting staggering statistics that serve to showcase the unique skillset of the 6’5 lead guard.

His 67 percent true-shooting percentage has him tied for 10th in the NCAA. He’s surrounded on that leaderboard by spot up three-point specialists like Ethan Wragge of Creighton and Phil Forte of Oklahoma State, but Wright’s talents are much more diverse than those one-dimensional shooters.

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Beyond simply putting the ball in the hoop more efficiently than anyone else in the Pac-12, he’s also in the top 10 in the conference in assist rate and steal rate. His PER is No. 4 in Pac-12 at a ridiculous 28.4. To top it off, he takes on the toughest perimeter defensive assignment every night for the Utes, and performs in that role spectacularly. Utah’s defense falls off a cliff when he leaves the floor. His defensive rating of 88.5 is 5.4 points better than the team’s defensive rating of 93.9.

Simply put, there are not many players in the country who affect the game in as many ways as Wright does. Given the way his college basketball career began, it’s pretty amazing that we’re getting a chance to see these talents shine in the glorious way that they are.

Wright was a lightly recruited three-star prospect out of Leuzinger High School in Los Angeles, the same high school as another lightly recruited do-it-all lead guard who skyrocketed to greatness in college: Russell Westbrook. However, Wright ended up a few credits short of graduating, so he headed east in order to get the credits he needed.

"I picked Rise Academy in Philadelphia because they told me they would help me get my diploma so I could play Division I basketball the next season," Wright said. "But when I got there, it wasn’t a real school or anything; it was more like we just played basketball. We didn’t attend classes or anything. After two or three months, I figured out they weren’t going to do it so I just left and went home."

After going home, Wright decided on a new course of action. He started looking at junior colleges and found one in the City College of San Francisco. It was the perfect environment for him. He already had a solid support system in place in the Bay Area, as his brother Dorell was playing for the Warriors at the time. Dorell believes that Delon’s road to the NCAA has made him both a better player and better person off the court.

"For one, he can’t take basketball for granted anymore," Dorell Wright said. "The mistakes he made in high school academics-wise and things like that, he understands he has to be on top of his game because basketball, which is a privilege, can be taken away from you. And he fully understands that, so that’s why now he’s hitting the books hard. He’s working on his game too, but right now it’s school first so he can get the opportunity to showcase his skills."

After being named MVP of the North Coast Conference, Wright decided on the Utes to finally begin his college career. Utah was the first school to recruit him, and he felt that he could make an immediate impact on the program.

He's done just that. Wright’s skills have translated incredibly well to the Pac-12, where he’s become one of the top guards in the conference. His ability to get into the paint and make quick decisions once there is impressive. Shots at the rim account for 61 percent of his total attempts this season, and he’s converting at a 74 percent clip, which is about 15 percent higher than the average point guard. He’s also sixth in the Pac-12 in assist rate, and passes out of the paint to shooters account for a large majority of those dimes. His basketball IQ on offense is impressive, and he understands how Utah’s floor spacing has been essential to his success this season.

"I’m pretty long so I can shoot over some of the bigger guys in the paint," Wright said. "And we also have shooters on the team so once I get into the paint they can’t crack down on me because I can just get it out to the shooters."

It’s fair to wonder how well this could translate to the next level. Wright’s jump shot hasn’t been falling this season, and he’s starting to take fewer of them as conference season has gone on with only five attempts in his past six games from beyond the arc. Wright told me that his "confidence hasn’t been too high with it," and that he’s "been focused on getting to the rim maybe a little bit too much."

I see him like a Rondo type of player -Dorell Wright

Then again, given how successful he’s been at the rim and in the paint it’s hard to argue that he’s doing anything wrong. When I asked him about if there are any players he models his game after, the first two guys who came to mind for him were Dwyane Wade and Westbrook. It’s pretty easy to see similarities in Delon’s game and the two of them, as neither of those two have been able to shoot from distance throughout their careers, but their shiftiness and quickness have allowed them to thrive on the highest level.

"I’ve been watching a lot of game film on them to take little parts of their game and put it into my game," Wright said. "Wade does a good job of attacking the basket, so I try to take little things like that. The eurostep, I got that from watching him."

Dorell had another interesting take on who his brother’s game reminds him of.

"I see him like a Rondo type of player," Dorell Wright said. "He’s a big point guard, gets guys involved. He’s a pass-first point guard, but he also gets to the rim whenever he wants to. People think just because Rondo can’t shoot that he can’t impact the game, and I feel like Delon is the same way. Just because he’s not out there making three-pointers and showing you a nice pretty stroke, he can still impact the game in three or four different ways."

Despite his lofty offensive efficiency, it might be fair to question if his most translatable skills come on the defensive side of the ball. Wright is an extremely active defender for someone that has to carry heavy usage on offense. His quick feet and length allow him to stay in front of smaller guards, and then his tremendous instincts and active hands allow him to force turnovers at a high clip. He’s one of only five players in the NCAA to have a block rate over three percent and a steal rate over four percent.

"I’ve always been good with anticipation and reading other players’ eyes," Wright said. "From there, I know where they want to go, so that helps me a lot. I just put myself in their position ask what I would want to do if I was them, then read off that.

Even though he’s started getting the attention of both NBA scouts and the NCAA media, Wright hasn’t really thought about the NBA yet. With his brother already being there, it’s something that he has in mind eventually but not quite yet.

"I’ve thought about the NBA, but I don’t think I would do that based on this year, right now," Wright said. "I’ll just see how the season goes. I’m not really thinking about making a decision or anything right now."

For now, college basketball fans should just try to enjoy as much of Wright’s unique game as they can. When he's on the court, it's hard not to notice him.

James Herbert contributed reporting to this piece.