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Wright Turn For Antoine Nets Give Rookie A Look (Not Online)

New York Daily News

LOS ANGELES - Antoine Wright envisioned it so much differently. The Nets' game here against the Lakers last November was supposed to be an opportunity for his family and friends to see him in uniform. Perhaps he would even get a few minutes guarding Kobe Bryant.

Instead, Wright's L.A. fan club only got to see the Nets' rookie guard in a suit on the bench, because he was on the inactive list.

"It was tough because all of your family and people come out and want to see you play or just to see you in uniform," said Wright, who grew up about an hour outside of Los Angeles in West Covina, Calif. "It was hard for me."

For much of this season, the Nets' first-round pick out of Texas A&M has been the forgotten man. But last night, Wright returned to the area for the Nets' game against the Clippers, and this time he was in uniform. With Jeff McInnis (knee surgery) out for maybe eight weeks and Lamond Murray nursing a sore knee, Wright has been activated.

It basically took 32 games for Wright to truly begin his rookie season, and the 6-7 guard has patiently waited for playing time.

During the first two months of the season, Wright played in one game - a two-minute stint in a blowout loss to the Kings in November. After that, the 15th pick in the 2005 draft was a regular on the Nets' inactive list. Wright spent more time figuring out what to wear on the bench rather than how to defend opposing guards. With Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson ahead of him, there wasn't much time for a rookie.

"The big thing for rookies is to have an understanding of what you have to do to work yourself into the lineup," Carter said before last night's game. "At first it was hard for him. And we'd sit and talk. We went out to dinner in Toronto, just fired things off, and he seems to be catching on to what it takes to be a player. He puts the time in lifting weights. He's stronger, you can see it. He's shooting a lot better. Just being on the court has helped his confidence."

Wright's confidence grew when Lawrence Frank began playing him, starting with a loss at Memphis on Jan. 13. Even though Wright is sometimes just a defensive substitution and he is averaging only 1.3 points in 7.9 minutes, he appeared in six of the Nets' seven games before last night.

"You could see his raw talent, you could see the upside to his game," Carter said of Wright. "Honestly. He can shoot it well. He's a guy who can get to the basket. We know it's there."

The Nets drafted Wright because of his size and shooting ability. The Nets may still send Wright down to the developmental league to gain experience once Murray is ready to return.

Maybe by this time next year, Wright will be a regular contributor. For now, he is thrilled to just be in uniform.

"I'm happy now that we're here and I'm able to suit up, at least," Wright said.