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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Wrightsil brings winning mentality to Golden Eagles

Photo by Alex DeBuhr
Zach Wrighstil earned NAIA National Player of the Year Honors last year at Loyola New Orleans before transferring to Marquette.

It all started with a tweet. 

“We were a program that was very selective in the transfer portal,” Marquette men’s basketball assistant coach Cody Hatt said. “There’s a lot of ways to build a program.”

That tweet? “My best trait as a player? I’m a winner”.

“For us with our roster, we wanted to bring someone in that we thought could continue to build the culture we laid in the first year through who they were as a person and a competitor first,” Hatt said. 

The coaching staff honed in on Loyola-New Orleans forward Zach Wrightsil who had just finished leading the Wolf Pack to a 37-1 record in 2021-22 en route to a national title while earning NAIA Player of the Year honors. 

“The biggest thing I saw was he’s a winner. He makes winning plays. He affects winning on the defensive and offensive end,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We need winning contributions, we need a competitive character on our team and he definitely brings that.” 

That proved to be right: Wrightsil holds nearly every single individual record at Loyola including all-time leader for points (2,104), rebounds (1,065) and assists (480). 

Wrightsil’s transition from the NAIA to the highest level of college basketball was postponed as he had to get his knee scoped.

“That set me back a little bit,” Wrightsil said. “I hadn’t been here for the whole summer. I had to really catch up fast because the season started in three months.”

He said the key to his recovery was to commit to a one day at a time mentality.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect and everyone around me knew I wasn’t going to be perfect,” Wrightsil said. “I have come a long way since coming back.” 

Though Wrightsil has not returned to full strength, Smart said the forward’s play is going to be better as each month goes by.

“He’s going to keep getting better as he gets accustomed to this level,” Smart said. “He’s a guy that’s very, very conscientious and wants to help the team in so many ways.” 

The Texas native’s transition to Marquette and the Big East has brought adjustment challenges, such as style of pace. 

Marquette had the fifth-fastest average possession length last season with the average being 15.1 seconds. 

“It’s just so fast pace. You don’t have a second to catch your breath, it’s one thing after another,” Wrightsil said. “Coach (Smart) has been getting on me every single day about next thing and don’t worry about what just happened.” 

One thing Wrightsil and Hatt have talked about and worked on is the balance between knowing enough to be aggressive without overthinking. 

“He’s been able to strike that balance more and when he does that, he allows his instincts to take over,” Hatt said. “Whether or not he’s in the exact right spot, he’s full go and fully aggressive, he can make plays with his ability and his talent level as a player that can compensate for maybe being half a step off position.” 

Hatt said it has been neat to see Wrightsil become more comfortable within Marquette’s system. 

“When he puts it all together and he knows exactly what he’s doing, he’s aggressive and his voice permeates throughout our gym,” Hatt said. “He’s a connector on the floor, he empowers other guys to match his intensity.” 

Sophomore forward David Joplin called Wrightsil a defensive anchor. 

“He’s a huge defensive motivator for me,” Joplin said. “I’ve never wanted to play defense more until I met Zach. Having him back there makes you want to guard more, press more and get into your stance more. He’s everywhere.” 

Junior forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper said Wrightsil brings value to not just the team but the forward unit.

“He’s a guy that’s going to go out there and give everything he has on the floor on both ends and that’s what we need,” Prosper said. “We need that toughness and that fire to win.” 

Hatt said Wrightsil fits the role of the team’s “blind guy.” 

“He’s a guy that can play with four other guys at various spots and bring a lot of different tools to the table,” Hatt said. “He adds an element at his size that is going to be unique for other teams to deal with.”

Smart’s teams are known for their defensive identity and Wrightsil said the defensive side of his game is being called on more now that he’s a Golden Eagle. 

“(At Loyola), I was kind of the main guy so I didn’t really express all of my energy on defense when I was there,” Wrightsil said. “Now being here, I’ve been challenged to a point where I’ve had to bring out my best of defense. It’s been incredible for me. It’s like a new skill that has been unlocked and to take to another level.” 

One area where Wrightsil will be called on defensively will come on the boards.

Marquette enters the season without roughly 50% of its rebounding from last season with the losses of Justin Lewis, Kur Kuath, Darryl Morsell and Greg Elliott. 

“He’s been a guy that’s impacted our team offensively and defensively on the backboard and that’s important for us as we continue to build our program to kind of complement the defensive intensity we feel that we have,” Hatt said.

Wrightsil shot 62% from the field last year at Loyola but was just 4-for-27 from beyond the arc. This year, the team is expecting to take more of those shots. 

“Everyone on our team has made it a point of emphasis that they trust my ability to stretch the floor and be able to knock down a shot,” Wrightsil said. “I’m in there working every single day getting shots up and working on my 3-point shot to be able to space the floor and knock down open shots. That is definitely going to be a part of my game this year.” 

Nov. 7, Wrightsil will walk out of the tunnel of Fiserv Forum for his first game in blue and gold, and there will be more fans greeting him than there ever were at Loyola.

“With what I’m about to see, I will have seen nothing compared to this at all,” Wrightsil said.

This story was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU. 

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