Bespectacled Travis Wright stands a shade more than two metres but he knows only too well how quickly people can try to cut one down to size based purely on how one looks.

"With my glasses and all that, people kind of think I don't play sports or anything," says Wright with a chuckle, mindful he carries a stature in the mould of former Tall Blacks skipper and current New Zealand men's assistant coach, Pero Cameron.

But the 19-year-old from Napier not cutting an athletic picture doesn't necessarily mean individuals don't have the attributes to make it to the higher echelons of sport.

"If people kind of have a negative attitude towards me, I don't really care about them, to be honest," says Wright, who has been working at Sims Pacific Metals in Onekawa Industrial area for the past few weeks but hums on a basketball court.


The excited power forward/centre has secured an American basketball scholarship from Florida National University, in Miami. He jets off on September 13 before his first game for the Conquistadors in October.

"I always wanted to play in a school or anywhere in America but I didn't think I was ever going to make it," says Wright, who will pursue a four-year degree in hotel business management.

The former Napier Boys' High School pupil started shimmying and faking it at Nelson Park School although he had been attending Basketball Hawke's Bay camps and training sessions before that. He carried that on into Napier Intermediate and NBHS, securing berths in Bay age-group representative teams along the way into the under-17s.

It was trips as a member of the Paul Henare and Paora Winitana Basketball Academy to Utah and Los Angeles in two years that gave him a sense of self-belief that he could compete with Americans and harboured a desire to attend the US tertiary system.

Wright found the level of competition and friendly faces infectious. It also was in contrast to the environment in New Zealand.

Joining the Impact Basketball Academy for clinics in New Zealand had opened doors for him to emulate the ritual with the academy in Florida for a fortnight as well as play in tourneys there in 2017.

Travis Wright (left) with fellow Lee Academy diploma graduates and basketball coach Dan Haynes in Maine. Photo/supplied
Travis Wright (left) with fellow Lee Academy diploma graduates and basketball coach Dan Haynes in Maine. Photo/supplied

In June last year the teenager had received a basketball scholarship to attend Lee Academy in Maine, gleefully taking it to complete his final year of high school to graduate. The academy is regarded as a top prep basketball school there, an establishment that footed it in the same league Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams did when he attended Notre Dame prep before attending university. Lee Academy enrols players from Canada, Serbia, Russia, France, Turkey and Lithuania as well.

It helped that academy mentors knew counterparts for things to fall into place for Wright's talent to spread by word of mouth.


At Florida National University, Wright will compete in the division one programme in the National Association of Intercollegiate Association (NAIA). The NAIA div one is considered to be on par with NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) div two, where Bay students William Heather and Wilfred Dickson play. The NAIA is a smaller association than the NCAA, with a little more than 60,000 students.

He will be under the tutelage of James "JJ" Thatcher who is embarking on his sixth season and in 2017-18 took the Conquistadors to a milestone 25-7 record, the most victories the varsity had posted in its history.

Ironically Wright had opted for the beautiful game rather than funny-shaped ball which is the No 1 sport in New Zealand.

"I was playing soccer with my dad as the coach so I was always usually a goalkeeper," he says of his father, Wayne Wright, who is retired as an environment department employee of HB Regional Council.

"I was all right because my fitness wasn't up to standard in those days," he says of Port Hill Club in Marewa, Napier.

On the polished floors of the oversized three-quarter shorts and singlet-wearing domain, Travis Wright says he's adroit in making the paint his patch but also in making assists and dropping baskets, when push comes to shove.


Gone are the days of a leisurely existence of leaning against the uprights of soccer fields, waiting to thwart foragers. He is now part of a regimented training regime and a sensible eating plan.

"It's kind of second nature to me now, watching what I eat."

Wright says the pies and sausage rolls have given way to rice-based dishes and drastically fewer grazing times between meals.

There's no mistaking Travis Wright's letter of intent after he signs his scholarship to Florida National University at his Napier home. Photo/supplied
There's no mistaking Travis Wright's letter of intent after he signs his scholarship to Florida National University at his Napier home. Photo/supplied

He sees his hotel degree ambitions as an equally exciting and challenging foray into a new realm.

"If you like start falling behind [academically] you won't be able to play," he says, aware of the need to keep his house in order.

In the bigger picture, the big man is sketching dreams of footing it in the European League. It's not that the NBA doesn't appeal to him but, more so, a cutthroat cauldron where only a select few make the muster.


His mother, Connie Wright, of Auckland, and her family are right behind his basketball career, too.

"She was [a basketballer] in her high school days," he says of Connie, who had lived in Napier for most of her life.

So did his father, competing at A grade level in Auckland after representing Hastings Boys' High School.