Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 21: Justin Wright
The details: Wright is a 5-foot-7 swimmer from Fresno, California, who specializes in the 200-meter butterfly for Arizona’s swimming program. Out of high school, Wright was ranked the 20th-best recruit in California and No. 131 overall by CollegeSwimming.com.
Wright chose the Wildcats over offers from California, Tennessee and Auburn out of Clovis West High School, and he liked the Wildcats enough to commit to the program while the UA was dealing was some turmoil with its coach at the time, Eric Hansen, who was in the midst of a season-long leave of absence before eventually resigning.
Wright stuck to his commitment with Arizona when Rick DeMont was named his replacement and is staying at UA for his senior year with new coach Augie Busch, with whom Wright met last week for the first time.
The numbers: As a junior, Wright performed best in the 200 butterfly, recording Arizona’s top time for the season in the event, but also finished with Arizona’s 10th-best 50 freestyle time (22.19), sixth-best 500 freestyle (4:33.73) and third-best 100 butterfly (46.78).
As a sophomore, Wright set the school record in the 200 butterfly — which he has since broken — and earned a selection as an honorable mention All-American. As a freshman, he recorded a team-best time (1:43.85) in the 200 butterfly along with the fifth-fastest time in three other events: 500 free (4:36.30), 1,000 free (9:56.91) and 100 fly (48.31).
The value: Arizona’s swimming program is in a transitional period, factoring in DeMont’s retirement, the hiring of a new coach and the general struggles of the programs since legendary coach Frank Busch left in 2011 and the Wildcats dealt with the turmoil of the Hansen years.
With misses in recruiting, coupled with some departures after DeMont’s retirement — including men’s standout Blair Bish — the Wildcats will rely on Wright to be one of the team’s standouts on the men’s side. If Arizona is going to remain competitive in Augie Busch’s first season, Wright will be a big part of that.
Why Wright? Wright is already a school record-holder, which is a major accomplishment at a school with Arizona’s prestigious history.
He’s one of the best butterfly swimmers in the Pac-12, and should continue to rise in the event as a senior at the national level.
Proof he’s good: Wright broke his own school record in the 200 butterfly at the NCAA Championships. Actually, he broke it twice — first in the preliminary round with an eighth-place finish, then again in the finals when he took seventh with a time of 1:40.94, good for second place and the first All-American honors of his career.
Recently, Wright qualified for the World University Games with a fifth-place finish in the 200 fly (1:56.11) at the Phillips 66 National Championships in Indianapolis. Wright will compete at the World University Games in Taiwan, Aug. 19-30.
Wright won Arizona’s Junior Male Athlete of the Year award last year over J.J. Matijevic (baseball), Dusan Ristic (basketball) and George Cunningham (golf).
What Wright can accomplish: Wright has yet to win a Pac-12 championship, and if he can continue to improve on his school-record time in the 200 butterfly, he can challenge for a conference title as a senior.
Also, Wright should be able to garner another All-America nod with a solid performance at the NCAA Championships.
He said it: “I think the biggest factor was really just the team. I took some trips, met all the guys. It’s a great group of people, great training ethics, everything, and I loved it.” — Wright about why he picked Arizona to Swimming World in 2014