St. John’s transfer Eli Wright leaves WKU basketball program

Drake Kizer

The WKU men’s basketball team has lost yet another player expected to make a significant contribution to its 2019-20 roster.

Transfer guard Eli Wright has left the Hilltopper program for personal reasons after just over a month on the Hill, team spokesman Zach Greenwell confirmed with the Herald on Monday morning.

Wright played two years at Mississippi State before leaving and redshirting last season at St. John’s. Wright sat out the entirety of his junior season in 2018-19 to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, but he never ended up appearing in a game for the Red Storm.

Wright entered his name in the transfer portal on Aug. 7 — opening the door to his third school in four seasons — before college basketball insider Jon Rothstein broke the news of his verbal commitment to WKU in a tweet posted on Aug. 15.

Head coach Rick Stansbury announced his signing on Aug. 30.

“We’re excited to have Eli join our team,” Stansbury said in a release at the time. “He’s gained some valuable college experience that he brings with him. I think it will be good for him and our program having him back close to home.”

With the addition of the Owensboro product, WKU was slated to have seven Kentucky natives on its 2019-20 roster — the most Kentuckians on a WKU roster since the 1980-81 season.

Listed as a redshirt junior on WKU’s 2019-20 roster, Wright was awaiting an eligibility waiver from the NCAA that would’ve allowed him to play the first of two remaining years of eligibility for the Hilltoppers during the 2019-20 season.

“Just waiting on waivers,” Stansbury said in reference to the eligibility of Wright and senior guard Kenny Cooper on Sept. 27. “That time frame is out of our hands. Hopefully in the next month.

“Don’t know for sure, but maybe. You see young men getting all kind of waivers across the country for all kinds of reasons. That there, we’ll just have to wait and see on it.”

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Wright played in 30 games and made one start as a freshman, averaging 3.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game. The slashing wing saw action in 34 contests as a sophomore, averaging 3.0 points and 2.2 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-5-inch guard was once a consensus four-star recruit in the Class of 2016. Rivals slotted him No. 92 nationally, 247Sports ranked him No. 80 overall and ESPN listed him as the No. 65 player in the country.

The former top-100 prospect earned his prep credentials by averaging 20.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a junior at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Kentucky, and 23.6 points per game as a senior at 22 Feet Academy in Greenville, South Carolina.

Wright’s departure marks the 17th time a player has left the program early under Stansbury since he became head coach in 2016.

Wright is also the seventh player to leave WKU this offseason, joining former Hilltoppers Dalano BantonJake OhmerMoustapha DiagneMarek Nelson, Tolu Smith and incoming freshman signee Nick Ongenda.

Senior Matt Horton also announced his intent to transfer on April 10, but the forward later returned to the program on Aug. 19 and will have one year of eligibility remaining with the Hilltoppers in 2019-20.

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.