NCAA official says working for Bobby Knight helped prepare him for pandemic planning

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INDIANAPOLIS — To say that L.J. Wright is busy right now would be a massive understatement.

“It’s facility operations, it’s public safety and security,” Wright said. “Those types of things are what I oversee.”

As the NCAA’s director of Men’s Basketball Championships, Wright and his colleagues have done about a year and a half worth of planning over the last few months in an effort to bring all 68 tournament teams to Indiana.

“It’s really just all about the details and just putting the puzzle together,” he said. “Being able to create and maintain this controlled environment that the teams are going to be living in, and some of us on staff will be living in, is challenging.”

“Bringing them to one site, there’s some benefits,” Wright continued. “But also if everybody shows up at the same time, well that can be a little challenging too.”

Of course, this isn’t the first challenging road to a championship Wright has followed before. In 1987, as the Indiana Hoosiers were marching to a national title, Wright was working for the team as a freshman manager. His duties essentially included anything coach Bobby Knight needed him to do. Some days, it kept him very busy.

“You really do everything, you take stats, you film, you break down film,” he recalled.

Other days were less busy.

“I didn’t have a lot of duties, other than maybe going out and getting coach some doughnuts,” he laughed.

Wright, who played basketball at Floyd Central High School in New Albany, wanted to stay involved with the game of basketball. Becoming a manager for I.U. gave him that chance.

“I was able to practice and play with the players,” he said. “I probably got hurt as much in those games, or in those practices, as I did when I was in high school.”

“I was basically directly across from the bench in the front row, looking at Keith Smart when he took the shot and made it,” Wright said with a smile.

Wright went on to earn his Sports Marketing and Management degree from I.U. That was followed by an internship at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, and later a job with the city’s Capital Improvement Board as Stadium Event Coordinator. For the last 19 years, Wright has been at the NCAA.

So, what’s more stressful: planning an NCAA tournament during a global pandemic, or working for Bobby Knight?

“At the time, I would have said it was making sure everything was right for coach,” Wright said with a laugh. “He was pretty demanding. But I tell you what, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. He set me up to be able to manage these times of stress through COVID. No question, I’m thankful.”

Wright says working as an IU basketball manager helped solidify a foundation of time and stress management, attention to detail and a work ethic to meet high expectations.

“Those relationships that you have, it’s a special, special thing,” he said.

He’s also thrilled to help bring tournament games back to Assembly Hall for the first time in 40 years.

In the meantime, Wright continues to make preparations for Selection Sunday and the start of the tournament. He hopes to get a full night’s sleep sometime in early April.

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