By Carly Yoshida-Butryn
Darcel Wright was always a fierce competitor. The Ryerson basketball superstar played with a broken hand at a Dalhousie tournament during her senior year in 1993. She travelled back to Nova Scotia to play in front of her hometown, and she didn’t want to let her friends and family down. Wright played two 40-minute games in front of a gym packed with fans who had come out just to see her play.
“It was very loud, I remember that,” said Tricia Eastman-Wyles, a former teammate and Wright’s best friend. She remembers friends and family banging cowbells and waving signs for her, and her nieces and nephews screaming her name.
“Everybody knew Darcel. Her face was bright. Her eyes were so alert. She had a big smile on her face. She really loved being around her family and close friends,” she said.
Wright sat out for six weeks after the tournament. “That’s the kind of competitor she was,” said women’s basketball coach Sandra Pothier. “She was tough on herself, ad I think she made people around her better.”
Wright, 41, died last Wednesday of colon cancer, but she believed right until the end that she would beat the disease. She decided not to tell everyone she was sick, wanting to avoid needlessly worrying her loved ones.
“She thought she was going to beat it,” Eastman-Wyles said. “I think that she really had the hope, the faith, the belief that she was going to win this battle.”
When Wright first started at Ryerson in 1990, she had no intention of playing basketball. It was only after Eastman-Wyles gave her a little encouragement that she decided to try out. “I said, ‘You’d better come out or else I’m not going to play,'” she said. “For her to be such an extraordinary player and not even want to try out for the team is mind boggling.”
Wright graduated with a business degree in 1995, and even though she never saw basketball as her future, she put everything she had into each game.
“When she finished a game, there was nothing left to give,” Pothier said. “To me, she’s still the brightest star. She’s one of the best basketball players we’ve ever had at Ryerson.”
Wright was the first women’s basketball player inducted into Ryerson’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. She didn’t just expect excellence from herself. Eastman-Wyles remembers the first time she saw her intensity and passion for basketball come through.
She had made a few turnovers during a game, and Wright told her in no uncertain terms to “step it up.” “She said, ‘Trish, they’re playing dirty. You’d better step it up.’ Getting her the ball, her intensity was just unbelievable and she just woke you up,” Eastman-Wyles said.
“That’s what she taught me. She taught me how to win.”
Wright’s basketball career at Ryerson was filled with achievements and accolades that include numerous athlete of the week titles, rookie of the year, and breaking a single-game scoring record with 56 points.
“When she was hot like that, you just wanted to get her the ball. But she never asked for it,” Eastman-Wyles said. “She never counted the number of hoops she made during a game.”
Pothier remembers Wright as a natural leader her teammates respected, and when she went on to become Pothier’s assistant coach after graduation, she carried that enthusiasm with her.
“She was as passionate as a coach as she was as a player,” said Pothier. “Darcel worked extremely hard and when she asked that of others, they respected that.”
Darcel’s friends say there wasn’t one team member who disliked her. She took the time to get to know players off the court and pulled weaker ones aside to work with them.
Wright’s seven-year-old son, Efe, shows signs of following in his mom’s footsteps. He already has a wicked crossover, but is also a great skater and loves soccer.
“I’m sure we’ll be hearing his name in the next 10 years or so,” Eastman-Wyles said.
Wright’s name was tossed around when the WNBA first started up, and she had the opportunity to play in Europe. But her friends all agree that for Wright, basketball was something she did, not who she was, and she never intended for it to become her career.
“Her root and her soul was her family,” Pothier said. Wright continued to play basketball until she got sick. She went on to work for Basketball Ontario and worked closely with her community as a mentor.
“She was just an outstanding person, and I know everyone’s going to miss her very much,” Pothier said. “It was just an honour to be her friend and coach.”