By Niki Fritz
There are a lot of people in the department who like sports; those who play sports, those who research sports, those who participate in fantasy sports, those who research fantasy sports, those who just really like to tailgate. We are a pretty sports-lovin’ department. But Paul Wright surpasses us all. He played basketball in high school (and still currently shoots hoops with Reed), coached junior high and high school teams, received recognition from the IU Women’s Basketball team for being a favorite teacher, and even invented his own quasi-legendary shooting method. And this year, for third year in a row, he is teaching the Girls Inc. 10 and up cohort how to become future basketball stars. This man loves his basketball.
Girls Inc. is an organization that for decades has helped girls recognize their own potential through after-school and summer programs. The organization has both volleyball and basketball leagues as well as programs that introduce girls to the STEM fields. Girls Inc. relies on volunteers to teach and coach participants. Paul first got involved with the organization after seeing a flyer for the basketball program in Avers Pizza. He hadn’t coached in a few years because he had been so busy but was missing coaching aspiring basketball stars.
When his neighbor and friend, Jessica Tang, a doctoral student in Medical Sciences, agreed to be a co-coach, Paul was in, despite his busy schedule.
“It is a little bit of a challenge [to fit in coaching] because I do like to work so much,” Paul explained very earnestly. “But we only meet twice a week so the time commitment is only four or five hours a week.”
After cramming in a full day of work, twice a week from September to November, Paul heads over to the gym to teach the girls basketball skills. The girls also play eight games through the season against other Girls Inc. leagues.
Little do the girls know they don’t just have any old coach but a California legendary shooting coach. You read right; in addition to playing and coaching, back during his undergraduate days Paul created his own patented shooting method called the L.A.S.E.R. method.
“If you use my L.A.S.E.R. method on every shot, you would never miss. The laser method is 100% infallible,” Paul told me, strong words for a scientist.
Paul explained that back in the day when he was coaching high school girls basketball, a father approached him and asked him to help his daughter with her shooting. Paul realized he actually knew very little about the technique of shooting and thus the scientist began his basketball shooting research.
“I started watching videos, looking at things online and tinkering with the shot. I would think about the physics and the mechanics of the shot. It took me about a year of research. It was my basketball thesis,” Paul said. “It took me a long time to iron out the wrinkles but after that I have never felt a need to adjust it after I created the fool-proof L.A.S.E.R. method. I say that in all humility.”
Paul also wanted me to tell any aspiring basketball stars out there that there is a full L.A.S.E.R. manuscript available … at a cost. The man is serious about his basketball.
However when it comes to divulging the team’s record Paul was a little evasive although he made sure to note the team was undefeated this year. Paul is quick to say though that coaching is about more than teaching the girls some fool-proof basketball skills.
“It’s not about wins or loses. It is about teaching the girls life skills and building character,” Paul said. “I don’t have kids and it is a really special thing to be involved in the lives of young people … Just to be able to be a mentor is the coolest thing.” In addition to learning basketball basics, Paul talks to the girls about college and what they want for the future. Paul also credits Co-coach Jessica with helping him integrate other life lessons into practices such as team building and having fun, a skill Paul is still working on.
In fact, Paul says one of the greatest lessons he has learned from coaching comes from the girls. He reflects on one game in particular. Paul’s team was winning and it was evident by the second quarter that his team was superior. Paul thought maybe in the fourth quarter they would take it easy on the other team; but his girls had other thoughts. In the huddle in the second quarter, the girls told Paul they wanted to let the other team get some shots in. Paul realized he had been taking the game a bit too seriously and that his girls had already learned an important lesson about having fun.
“[The girls taught me] to relax and take it easy, to have a little bit more perspective. I’m so goal oriented and they are a little bit more ‘let’s have fun,’” Paul explained. It is a hard lesson for a work-loving, uber-productive Paul, but a lesson he has been happy to learn from his basketball team.