We live in a world that is heavily influenced by sports. Whether it be children playing a pickup game at the park, or professionals duking it out for millions of dollars. Many people grow up loving sports, but few get to make a career out of it.
Miami University women’s basketball coach Cleve Wright is doing just that.
Wright’s love for basketball began at an early age.
“My earliest memory [of playing basketball] was in fourth grade,” Wright said. “I remember playing in my driveway and dribbling a lot and then playing in the YMCA leagues.”
Wright cycled around just about every position while playing high school basketball and he later attended Berea College in Ky., where he was a two-sport athlete; on the basketball court and on the track. Wright graduated from Berea in 1989, and it was there he realized he wanted to become a coach.
“I was actually playing basketball at Berea College and I wasn’t getting a whole lot of playing time,” Wright said. “When I had been asked to be the assistant women’s basketball coach I had never thought about coaching women. I knew I loved coaching and I really enjoyed the opportunity to do that in college.”
After graduating from Berea, Wright was a graduate assistant coach at Ball State University, where he earned his Master’s Degree in Athletic Administration in 1992. Wright bounced between high school and college coaching before taking the head coaching job at Gannon College in Erie, Pa. in 2002.
Wright was with Gannon for 11 years and posted a record of 233-100, including a trip to the Division-II Final Four in the 2009-10 season.
“Gannon was my first head coaching experience as a college coach,” Wright said. “Gannon taught me how important it is to influence your players and to teach them to take ownership. It’s important to teach the players their role in the leadership of a program. I told my players that what they say will be much more important than anything that I can say. That peer influence will be 10 times stronger than anything I can say. The goal is to have a self-motivated team, not a coach motivated team.”
Wright’s strategy was more than successful, as he had seven All-Americans during his time at Gannon. After so much success with Gannon, Wright said divine intervention led him to Miami.
“I wasn’t planning on leaving Gannon when Miami contacted me about the job,” Wright said. “The Lord led me here, and I believe that I’m going to go where the Lord leads me. I’m excited about being here, it’s a special place.”
Basketball is a family activity in the Wright household, as Cleve’s daughters, Chloe and Emma, both play for Talawanda High School in Oxford. Wright said he did not force the game he loves on his daughters.
“We tried a lot of different things, because we didn’t want them to feel pressured to play basketball,” Wright said. “The only thing that stuck was basketball.”
Wright said the most influential person he has encountered in his coaching career is his wife, Diane.
“Basketball-wise, my wife doesn’t know a whole lot, but she has strong understanding of relationships,” Wright said. “Strong leaders work hard to cultivate relationships with the people they lead. If coaching was just about putting an orange ball going through a rim, I’ve wasted 28 years of my life. Coaching basketball gives me an opportunity to teach life skills. For me, coaching isn’t just about the x’s and o’s; it is about creating a team and teaching players how to be great teammates. Great teammates lead to great teams. We want to teach our players about hard work teamwork, relationships, commitment. These are life skills they can take with them after Miami.”
Those words: working hard, teamwork, relationships and commitment, are on the walls of Wright’s office in Millett Hall.
They are part of what has made him successful enough to build a career coaching a sport that many of us only have the pleasure of watching.