The Rockets’ launcher

A seni­or guard re­cently reached the 1,000-point plat­eau for his Auden­ried boys’ bas­ket­ball team. 

Auden­ried seni­or Nish­eem McNeal-Wright has been a scor­ing dy­namo for sixth-year coach Kenyatta Bey. Photo provided by Devon Al­len

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.” 


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