Monica Wright is arguably the greatest player in the history of the Virginia women’s basketball program.
She is the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer with 2,540 points. She holds school records with a career average of 19.1 points a game and a total of 734 points during her senior season in 2010 — the year she was named ACC Player of the Year.
Wright led Virginia to the NCAA Tournament in three of her four years, she was a three-time All-American and the Minnesota Lynx picked her No. 2 overall in the 2010 WNBA Draft. But even given her success as a player, Wright was destined to one day be a coach.
She was 11 the first time she felt it. Her father, Garry, who himself was a coach, took her and a friend to an overnight basketball camp, the highlight of which was a two-on-two tournament that they dominated. The scores got so ridiculous and Wright and her teammate stopped playing and began coaching the other girls in their age group.
“I had been pointing toward coaching ever since I picked up a basketball,” Wright said. “I fought it a lot because I wanted to play. But once I had those knee injuries toward the end of my pro playing career, I knew I had to start considering coaching if I wanted to be able to walk.”
Wright’s playing career ended in 2016. She spent the past couple seasons at Incarnate Word and Liberty University learning the ropes of the coaching profession. Now, she’s back in the same arena where her number and jersey were retired.
In May, Virginia announced Wright and Walter Pitts as additions to head coach Tina Thompson’s staff. They replaced former assistants La’Keshia Frett Meredith, who landed at Auburn, and Jama Sharp.
“It’s a little weird, seeing it from the other end of things, but I’m learning a lot and I’m absolutely thrilled to be back,” Wright said. “It’s like I’m coming home. I’m seeing so many familiar faces and everyone has been supportive and loving just as they were when I was a player here.”
Wright said she kept an eye on the Cavaliers last season, and as soon as Thompson called to tell her a spot was open, she jumped on it.
“Tina is a beautiful individual. She has been the same mentor to me now that she has been since I was a player in the WNBA,” Wright said. “I have tons of respect for her, and we have tons of fun talking about certain things that only we would know about.”
Wright and Thompson know each other well from their WNBA days. They found themselves on opposing teams on more than one occasion, but two moments in particular stick out to Wright.
In 2013, the duo was on the court for Thompson’s final WNBA game. It was game two of the opening round of the playoffs between the Lynx and Seattle Storm. Thompson actually had a chance at the winning shot but couldn’t get it to fall, and Minnesota eventually went on to win the title.
After the game, the entirety of the Minnesota Lynx roster posed for a picture with Thompson, who retired in 2014 as the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and has since been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
The other moment indelibly etched into Wright’s memory was of a game-winner Thompson did hit. It knocked the Lynx out of the playoffs during Wright’s rookie season, but it also put Minnesota into the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick, which turned into Maya Moore and led to multiple WNBA titles.
“As a player, I’ll always remember her toughness and grit and her fearlessness,” Wright said. “I look at Tina as someone who can teach me a lot, especially when it comes to recruiting. She had like what 10 McDonald’s All-Americans at Texas? She’s just a master at it.”
After struggling through a first season on Grounds, where the Cavaliers often only had six or seven available players, Thompson worked her recruiting magic this offseason. The additions of AP Wisconsin Player of the Year Shemera Williams and in-state scoring machine Carole Miller alone are likely to pay dividends sooner rather than later.
Jocelyn Willoughby, Dominique Toussaint, Felicia Aiyeotan and Lisa Jablonowski will all take the court as seniors in 2019-20, so the Cavaliers’ coaches have to start preparing their next generation of leaders. Thompson couldn’t think of a better example for her young players than Wright.
“She knows a side of the university that no one else on our staff knows and has accomplished the very things our girls aspire to,” Thompson said. “It is important to me that our kids have examples of what is possible, that they can see, touch and talk to everyday. That way they will know if they are committed to the work, anything is possible.”