Famous artist and rapper, Kanye West, started up a school which he calls Donda Academy and just last season decided to have a basketball program that will feature some of the best players in the country. It was a bit of a shock to the nation last season, as Donda Academy came in just right before the basketball season tipped off.
They were able to play in multiple cities last season and will be looking to come back even better for this upcoming 2022-2023 high school season, but this time with a new head coach. Former NBA veteran, Dorell Wright, was named the head coach for Donda Academy this upcoming season just a few months ago.
I had a chance to sit and speak with the new head coach for the Doves for this upcoming season to talk about building with his new team, his professional career, and much more.
Wright played professionally for twenty years, both in the NBA and overseas. He was one of the rare players drafted straight out of high school and into the NBA. He played for teams like the Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, and the Philadelphia 76ers, winning an NBA Finals championship as apart of the Miami Heat in 2006. Wright also spent time overseas where he played in China for the Beikong Fly Dragons, in Europe for Igokea and Brose Bamberg, and a year in Russia for Lokomotiv Kuban.
I asked Dorell to just talk about his professional career in the NBA and overseas. How was it to play in both the NBA and to play overseas in other countries?
“I grew up in South Central. Growing up in that environment there were not too many role models that made it to the NBA. You get the hood celebrities from the guys that do whatever it takes to support their families, the people that you watch growing up on your block. Those the people you watch and not all those guys are the most successful guys. Growing up in a gang infested neighborhood, my Mom and Dad always kept me locked in with sports, whether it was baseball, football, or basketball.
I was kind of being brought up to being a baseball player. I played all the way until my senior year of high school and almost got drafted for baseball, but decided to put my eggs in one basket and be a basketball player. Just having the opportunity being an inner city kid to do either or and picking basketball, which I fell in love with every single day. That made my journey in being a pro athlete even better just knowing where I came from.
Being selected as the first player ever selected out of high school by the Miami Heat was just an amazing feeling. Being able to go under the wing of one of the greats, like Dwyane Wade, and being coached by a legend, Pat Riley, was just an amazing start. That gave me my baseline on how to be a professional and how to carry myself. The Miami Heat culture was just so intense and demanding to be a professional, bring your hard hat to work, and be respectful to your opponents every day.
I carried that same Heat culture everywhere I went, whether it was with Golden State, Portland, or Philly. They understood what Heat culture was, me winning a championship with the Miami Heat, my job on other teams was to be that example and that leader. Having that Heat culture tag on me allowed a bunch of doors to open up because they knew I was going to be professional, be a great team player, and I was going to work my butt off. I was fortunate enough to play twelve years in the league and four years in Europe.
To go overseas and see different cultures and different styles of basketball, it helped me now as a coach. It is a lot of work overseas. They practice you like crazy and the travel conditions are not always the best. It is very humbling, but it also makes you more hungry to be successful because of the things you have to go through to be prepared for games.” Wright explains.
Dorell Wright was selected as the 19th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school. Now back then, rules were different and it was rare that a high school senior would enter his name in the NBA Draft and even get selected. The Miami Heat took that chance on Wright and gave him a chance to begin his professional career.
“It was amazing, just cause I was a late bloomer. I played 11-12th grade and then a post grad year. I worked my butt off for three years and had the opportunity to make that jump after three years. It just shows you if you put your head down, work hard, and you get obsessed with your grind anything can happen. For me and my family, it was obviously a life changing experience. For me, I was so green at the time and I was still learning the game. For Miami to take a chance on me was an amazing feeling and it just showed the work I put in.
No matter how long you’ve been playing, as long you are willing to learn, sacrifice certain things like going out with friends, partying, or whatever it is, you can get there. Coming out of high school was definitely nerve racking. My parents were extremely nervous, but they trusted the process throughout the years. I was able to be a role model for so many kids in the LA area and even my little brother, Delon Wright. Super blessed to be in this position, to continue to show a great example for the generation after me.” Dorell speaks on the experience of getting drafted straight out of high school.
Dorell is still around the game of basketball to this day and has been a great example for the youth in the next generation. He was named to be the next Donda Academy head coach for the 2022-2023 high school season this past summer and is already eager to begin that journey.
“It feels amazing to be the next head coach. Last year, when Justin and Kanye started everything and everyone reached out to me, they basically told me what they were trying to do and wanted me to help them bring it to life. They wanted me to be the director and coach, but unfortunately I had other commitments at the time with NBC Sports doing pre and post games for the Golden State Warriors building my new career.
The timing was just a bit off because everything started so late, but I was all in and I wanted to see this program be successful. I took the behind the scenes roll last year and just helped build the whole program. I used my resources out in LA to help the program and the kids, making them feel comfortable. This year, when they reached out again to ask me to be the coach, they sold me on to just being able to use my experience and pass it off to the next generation.
I’m so excited to be around so much great talent. It allows me to be creative, mess around with different lineups, and putting guys in uncomfortable situations as well. These guys are still high school kids, so you want to put them in every single situation and see how they react, you can really test them at a young age. I look at these dudes as little brothers. I look at it like D-Wade looked at me when I first came into the league. I was green, I was young, and didn’t really know how to work.
Just teaching these kids how to work and bring your hard hat to work every single day. Bringing that Heat culture I talked about earlier. Holding yourself accountable, not making excuses, not feeling sorry for yourself, and out working your man in front of you to help your team win. Just those small things that I’ve learned over the years is what I’m trying to install in these guys. It’s going to be a long process, but one thing I can say with my experience, they are buying in, listening to detail, and having fun every day when we step on the court.” Wright says regarding his position as the head coach of Donda Academy.
Donda Academy is currently ranked in the preseason top-25 for the 2022-2023 high school season as of today and only in their second year as a basketball program. The Doves are loaded with talent and 2023 Robert Dillingham, who is committed to Kentucky, headlines their roster once again this upcoming season.
I asked Dorell to just talk about Dillingham’s talent and how has it been to coach one of the top talented prospects in the country.
“Man Rob Dillingham is one of them dudes you love having on your team. A guy that can make any shot in the world, so crafty, so athletic, and so electric. It has a lot of god given abilities at his size. When you look at him, he probably does not pass the eye test cause of his size because he is a little bit smaller and probably not the strongest guy in the world.
When you see his shot and him on the court you kind of underestimate what he can do, but once he starts hitting shots, dancing with the ball, and his creativity with the ball around the basket, then you see the god given talent he holds.
I just love how he plays the game. He reminds me of a young Brandon Jennings in terms of scoring the ball, size, athleticism, and his creativity. The number one thing is his confidence. Just a confident kid, he feels like nobody can guard him. That’s what you love, you want guys on your team like that. You don’t have to worry about him bringing his hard hat to work every day. He’s going to compete everyday, challenge his teammates, and even his opponent. You really have to prepare for a guy like Dillingham, how you can take the ball out of his hand or slow him down, you love going to battle with guys like that.” Dorell answered.
Dillingham is just one of plenty talented prospects apart of this year’s Donda Academy team. Other top talented prospects like 2023 A.J. Johnson, 2023 J.J. Taylor, 2023 Davious Loury, and more will be apart of the success this upcoming season. The Doves will be playing a national schedule, appearing in multiple top tier high school events.
“My expectations this year is just going all out, playing to our abilities every single night. Trying to be that team that plays fast, move the basketball, we going to defend at a high level, and hold each other accountable. I think the biggest thing with us is just putting all the talent together and that is why we in the gym now trying to build that chemistry. From us, you going to see a team that plays hard and have fun doing it.
I know last year went so fast and a lot of people doubted the situation. We had a good year under our belt to learn the ups and downs. This year, we have returners that our motivated and have a lot of guys ready to play on this national level to show the country that they are the top dogs in the country. That is what you will get from us, a team that is going to grind it out, play fast, defend at a high level, and have a lot of fun doing it with a lot of confidence and pride.” Wright says in terms of expectations for Donda this season.