by Fred Kerber
New York Post
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Nets limped home from an 0-4 road trip at the end of January and found - oh, joy! - the Detroit Pistons waiting.
The Nets needed a victory in the worst way, for their mind, bodies and Eastern standing. So it was then Lawrence Frank decided to give rookie Antoine Wright his first real test. There had been other moments for Wright, cameos here and there, usually when the game was beyond hope either way.
So Frank grabbed Wright, pointed to Pistons' guard Richard Hamilton and said, "Defend."
"When is the right time?" Frank said. "The kid wants to play, so prove your mettle against one of the elite two-guards in the league.
"No one said I was kind."
It was a seven-minute appearance, but Wright showed well and helped solidify his position in the Nets' rotation. He is being used more and more, earlier and earlier, doing what the Nets drafted him to do: Filling the top reserve swing spot, subbing for Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Wright has gained the trust of teammates and coaches, playing in 15 of the 17 games heading into last night against Detroit, after appearing in one of the first 32.
"He's getting better," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "He started off, wasnt getting any minutes, didn't deserve to get any minutes. He's worked hard. . . . He's a work in progress, but he's shown some good things."
The Nets defeated the Pistons, 91-84, on Jan. 31, when Wright helped frustrate Hamilton into an 8-for-24 shooting horror.
"It's always harder than you expect, being able to step in and do something right away because you don't have experience," Wright said. "And its always harder to try to learn by watching. But right now its getting better.
"I [want] to prove that I'm supposed to be out here, not prove or show its a charity thing, like Coach is just giving me minutes.
"I try to prove myself and show him that I can earn my way, show I can play. Thats what I've been trying to do."
It's working, apparently - but only because of the work Wright put into it.
"He might not have been ready to play at the beginning of the year. But the last few months, he's learning, working extremely hard, working on areas of his game he needs to improve, getting stronger, quicker, more athletic, working in the weight room," Richard Jefferson said of the Texas A&M product the Nets grabbed with the 15th selection in the NBA Draft last June.
"Doing all those things has really pushed him to the level of being able to help. If he had been the same player he was when he got here, he may not have gotten off the bench."
Like most rookies, Wright arrived from collegiate success figuring, hey, how hard can it be?
"Really hard," said Wright, who like most young players realized after about, oh, 20 minutes, that he didn't have all the answers. But his teammates had some.
So Wright listened to Carter, who proved most helpful.
"Just by keeping me involved when I'm not playing. Hes talking to me every day," Wright said. "When were playing certain teams, hell tell me the tendency of guys and what they like to do, and how to get open to get my shot."
What has Wright done in return?
"So far, nothing," he said. Give it time.
"Antoine is doing a real nice job. It is a learning experience. This is game 50 for us? But for him it is probably game 8," Frank said. "He is a great example of, when you put in the work . . . how much better you can get."