For those who say that college basketball stars can't connect with fans the way they once did because they don't stay in school for four years, Lorenzen Wright is proof that there are exceptions to that rule.
Wright spent only two seasons at Memphis State from 1994 to 1996, yet he may be as beloved by Tigers fans as any ex-player not named "Penny."
They remember Wright being billed as the ideal defender and rebounder to complement David Vaughn before he arrived on campus. They remember him showcasing a surprising face-up game and an incredible ability to finish at the rim. And they remember the way he played like an overgrown kid, howling with delight after wowing the crowd at the Pyramid with alley-oops and tomahawk jams.
Sadly, all Memphis fans are left with is memories of the man they knew as 'Ren because he has passed away far, far too soon. Law enforcement officials found his body on Wednesday in a wooded area of Memphis after he'd been missing for more than a week.
It's hard to pick out one moment from Wright's college days that stands out more than others, but it's safe to say the 6-foot-11 big man's two-year career is symbolic of the Larry Finch era at his alma mater. Wright showcased immense talent and won over fans with his charisma and athleticism, but he never quite harnessed all his skills to the point where he could lead the Tigers on a deep NCAA tournament run.
Wright averaged a double-double in both years in college, posting 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds as a freshman and upping that to 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds as a sophomore despite constant double teams.
In Wright's debut season, he and Vaughn powered the talented sixth-seeded Tigers to a second-round NCAA tournament upset of Purdue before their season ended the following game with a five-point loss to eventual national runner-up Arkansas. The following year Memphis State cracked the top 5 in the country heading into an early showdown between Wright and UMass' Marcus Camby, but the Tigers lost and then ultimately got upset by a Malik Rose-led Drexel squad in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Los Angeles Clippers selected Wright with the seventh pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, ahead of the likes of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal. Wright played 12 seasons in the NBA, enjoying his best seasons earlier this decade alongside a young Pau Gasol in Memphis.
It says a lot about the relationship between Wright and his hometown that he was chosen to model the Grizzlies' new uniform in 2001 just two days after the NBA approved the franchise's move from Vancouver to Memphis.
That was a proud day for Wright. His NBA legacy might have been that of a solid but unspectacular journeyman, however, he'll always be remembered in Memphis as one of the great ones.