Local legend makes return to hometown as UT Arlington head coach
By TJ MAXWELL
One of the most successful athletes in the history of Copperas Cove athletics paid a visit to her Alma Mater on Wednesday, more than 20 years after graduating as the top player in the country.
Copperas Cove alum Shereka Wright has seen success at every level of her career from at state championship appearance her sophomore year in high school where the Lady Dawgs fell to eventual champions Alief Elsik in the 1997-98 5A girls semifinals, winning the Nike Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara, California, being just the third player to win two Tournament of Champions MVPs, winning the Gatorade Athlete of the Year, scoring over 3,100 points in high school, scoring 2,251 at Purdue before being the 13th overall pick by the Detroit Shock in the 2004 WNBA draft.
“It starts from my family,” Wright said. “My mother and father taught about having a work ethic, discipline and understanding that education matters and I was fortunate enough and blessed to have athletic talent. Those were the things that were instilled in me and that I continued to carry throughout my career.”
After injury forced the early end of her professional career in 2005, the hoops legend turned her attention to the coaching ranks.
“I had a lot of success in my collegiate career,” said Wright. “My pro career was obviously cut short, but I got there.
“I knew I wanted to teach. I knew I wanted to give back to young people and mentor young people. My mom coached me and she coached and mentored others and I really admired that. So, when I had an opportunity to get into coaching, I just took it and ran with it.
Wright stared her coaching career as an assistant at Texas Tech from 2006-2013 before taking an assistant job at Alabama from 2013-2018 and eventually the associate coach position at Vanderbilt from 2018-2020.
“My first coaching job was here in Texas at Texas Tech then I followed Coach (Kristy) Curry and her husband to Alabama where I was a recruiting coordinator there and was able to have a lot of success recruiting big time players,” said Wright. “Then I decided to branch off and learn from somebody else – Stephanie White – who was well-known within our professional ranks.”
Now Wright looks to make a name for herself as the second-year head coach for the University of Texas at Arlington women’s head basketball coach.
“When UT Arlington opened up and coach (Krista) Gerlich decided to go home to her Alma Mater and UT Arlington came open, I was like, ‘my goodness this is a dream job,”’ said Wright. “It’s a great place for recruiting. I just hopped on it and put all my effort into it.”
Many of memories were stirred for Wright as she made her way across the campuses she once roamed.
“The biggest thing I remember coming back on campus is just the support that we had within the community,” she said. “It was unbelievable. I remember this clear as day. It was my sophomore year when we went to the State Tournament. Our sendoff was unbelievable. The amount of people that came out in support and followed us. Every time I remember it, it gives me chills. The people are what made it. It was a great time for us. The support we had over those four years was unbelievable.”
Wright also reunited with former teammate and current Lady Dawgs’ head basketball coach Tiffney Barnes-Graham as well as her former junior high and high school coaches Sammye and Skip Townsend, respectively.
“Skip and Sammye were very integral of really setting a tone with Copperas Cove girls’ basketball, starting in middle school with Sammye. She played us in these big tournaments. She really supported and pushed us. Then we came here and Skip really made sure to put us out there where people knew who we were.
“For that I am indebted, because a lot of those things wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t get a chance to see us. They may have heard about us, but we were able to get on a platform to play against the best of the best in the country. To go do that our junior year, ranked No. 1 in the country from a small town, is remarkable. They are a big part of why Copperas Cove was put on the map.”
Sammye and Skip remember it a bit different as they knew the player and leader they had in Wright at their first encounter.
“I kept telling everybody we had an eighth-grade class coming up and they’re going to be ready to play at the 6A level their freshman year,” said Skip. “Nobody believed that and her first game (Shereka) had 31 points against Pflugerville, who was a dominant team. So, right from the start, everybody knew she would be someone to contend with. In her sophomore year we made it to state. In her junior and senior year we didn’t quite make it, but we won the Nike Tournament of Champions in California, which really put her out there as one of the top players in the nation.
“She won some major awards in her career. In her senior year, she was the Player of the Year in America, she got the Gatorade Woman Athlete of the Year. Gatorade came down here and spent about $20,000, took all or our team out to eat and put a big program on in front of our school. There are some really famous people that have won that award. Winning the Nike Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara, California was a big thing. It kind of vaulted our team nationwide.”
The husband-and-wife coaching team, who spent 14 years in Copperas Cove, weren’t surprised when Wright was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Shock.
“That was one of her dream and we knew it was going to happen,” said Skip. “She was the top player in America her senior year when she left here. At Purdue, she was an All-American right off and already shot more free throws than anybody in Purdue history, so everybody knew she would be a major factor in the pros. I wish it would have worked out for her better, because I would have liked to have seen her play more. I didn’t get to see her play much.”
Current Copperas Cove head girls’ basketball coach Tiffney Barnes-Graham also reflected on their times as teammates.
“She was a leader on and off the court,” said Barnes-Graham. “If you were doing something you had no business doing, she was mama, she was there. She reminded us what we needed to do and to be on the straight and narrow. On the court, she led by actions. She didn’t take a possession off. She didn’t take a minute off, so that held us accountable where we couldn’t take any time off either. If a player like that doesn’t take any time off, we don’t have that time to take off.”
She also talked about the inspiration Wright provides to her program and herself.
“It just motivates us as a program and it motivates my kids to see there are things you can work for and accomplish,” she said. “Standing in front of you, Shereka Wright, has done it.
“Every time I would see her on the court, it would remind me how it was and how I felt playing with her on the court. She motivates me to be better and continue to fight for what I want no matter how hard it gets.”
Wright looks to build on last year’s success despite the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on her freshman season as UTA head coach.
“We’re a veteran team,” said Wright. “We return six core players who were very integral in our success. We had that COVID year and a lot of things happened to us. We still ended up finishing second in our division. I’m excited. Our plan is to compete for a championship within the Sun Belt Conference. We added some good young talent and added some transfers that I actually recruited at Vanderbilt and Alabama. I’m excited about our depth and I’m excited about what this team can do.
“The plan is for me to grow as a coach. That was always a challenge for me as a player, but the plan is to be the best I can be on the sideline and hopefully bring some championships to UTA.”