Though certainly physically gifted, with years of competitive football having enhanced his childhood, Nisheem McNeal-Wright lacked mental maturity when, as a freshman, he sought to secure a spot on the Universal Audenried Charter High School varsity basketball team. Three seasons removed from that setback, he has become the Rockets’ top launcher and hit 1,000 points for his career Jan. 17.
“I definitely knew that I needed to get everything together in that part of the game,” the senior guard said Monday from his Grays Ferry-situated school. “Now that I have that confidence, I’m able to produce for this team, and there have been some great results from that. Obviously, being a 1,000-point scorer is proof of that.”
The headstrong sharpshooter reached the milestone with a first-quarter free throw in his squad’s 84-66 home victory over Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School. McNeal-Wright and coach Kenyatta Bey had planned during a road contest at Northeast High School days before for the monumental moment to occur before the Grays Ferry faithful.
“I knew how many I needed, so I wanted to do my part against them and save any celebration for our next home game,” McNeal-Wright said of being able to thank the throng in person. “Getting that point really freed me up for the rest of the game.”
“It was an excellent idea for him to make that personal history here,” Bey, in his sixth season as the Rockets’ overseer, said of the afternoon, which included pictures of McNeal-Wright holding a $1,000 bill with his face on it. “He’s come a long way since freshman year, so he’s truly a testament to what can happen when you combine athletic gifts and mental toughness.”
He is only the third Audenried boys’ basketball player to earn membership into the prestigious club. Abdul Taylor (1,266 points) and Richard “Rob” Cerdan (1,068 points) are the others.
The Point Breeze resident noted that the Olney-based teenager needed polishing when he came to Audenried and that once his charge refined his cerebral comprehension of the tasks at hand, he knew McNeal-Wright deserved to be a starter early during his sophomore campaign. Over the course of their bond’s evolution, each has noticed many admirable traits in the other, with the adolescent dubbing Bey “a great man” and the mentor classifying him as a “limitless talent.” That connection has helped to foster great expectations among the Rockets’supporters, who are hoping their hoops heroes can stifle the opposition in the Liberty Division.
“We are a press-and-run team that thrives on executing an up-tempo offense,” Bey noted, giving a nod to McNeal-Wright, who finished with 24 points in the blowout win that produced his revered swish. “You have to believe it’s possible to get better each time you go out there, and this team accepts that and goes after goals.”
“Coming into this year, I knew we all needed to go harder,” the team leader said of the unit. “There’s no way you’re going to compete for a championship if you think it’s cool to slack off.”
McNeal-Wright developed allegiance to improving his sporting identity as a Grays Ferry-reared youth, with football fascinating him through its physicality and opportunities to help him to engage in releasing stress. He played for multiple teams as he progressed on the gridiron, with the Eastwick Dynasty Dragons being particularly influential.
“I couldn’t get enough football,” he said of his boyhood obsession with the sport. “It just made perfect sense for me to go out there and give everything I had for whatever team that I was on.”
Given his then proximity to Audenried, McNeal-Wright knew the facility stood to be his secondary education site, but he balked at going there because it lacked a pigskin program. He enrolled at his mother’s insistence, yet spent the summer before his freshman year in a foul mood.
“Eventually, I set my mind to playing basketball, but, yeah, I was upset over the decision,” the 6-foot-1 presence said of making a shift that has yielded playing in the Sonny Hill Community Basketball League and the Point Breeze Youth Development League, the latter being Bey’s brainchild. “It’s been fun to grow as an individual and as a member of a team. I think this is a great system for me because I can attack the rim and be a slasher when I think I have a good opportunity to score.”
In his inaugural year as a roster member, he and his peers advanced to the Public League semifinals. Last season ended with a first-round loss, but no matter what the outcome of a game has been, McNeal-Wright has always been a dream come true for statistics-obsessed observers.
“He’s averaged 21 or 22 points per game in his time with us,” Bey said of the dynamic depositor. “He’s been such a strong part of what we’ve done this year, and I know he wants to keep the momentum going right through the playoffs.”
Once McNeal-Wright ends his South Philly journey for the 14-2 Rockets, who host William L. Sayre High School today at 3:15, he hopes to continue his athletic growth as a La Salle University Explorer. Having greatly developed as a student, too, he looks forward to advancing as a collegiate learner, as well, with culinary studies as what gets his brain cooking.
“I’d love to be a chef,” the 18-year-old said, smiling as Bey revealed his desire to open a chain of soul food restaurants. “The culinary program here is really good, so if I can combine basketball and my interest in food at the next level, I’ll be really happy.”