Gerry Wright

Forward, 1985-1987

February 11, 2015

Written by Mitch Smith

Gerry Wright can still do the cartwheel dunk.

The Iowa forward from 1985-87 was famously known for completing a cartwheel while palming  the basketball and capping off the tumbling routine with a slam. It won him the 1990 Continental Basketball Association slam-dunk contest.

Wright’s journey has been jammed with a variety of experiences.

He played basketball professionally, was in the Navy, and served as a police officer in California. On top of that, Wright also had a stint as an exercise specialist and bodyguard for the royal family of Saudi Arabia, and is a published author of two volumes of books on dating and relationships.

Through this journey, he never lost sight of the importance of education. Now, he’s passing that message on to others.

Wright, 51, has been a high school teacher in San Bernardino, California for the past 15 years. The former Hawkeye is a self-proclaimed “history expert,” teaching courses in advanced placement U.S. History, economics, government, world history, African American history, and history of American music.

“Education has always been my thing — chase big dreams, but always get that education along the way,” he said. “I was successful and blessed to play basketball professionally, but without my education I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

In addition to teaching, Wright also coaches the men’s basketball team at Barstow Community College — located about an hour north from his home in Highland, California.

The former Hawkeye built competitive programs at his previous coaching stops at San Bernardino Valley College and Arroyo Valley high school, and aspires to build a winning tradition in Barstow.

Wright played for three Iowa squads that made it to the NCAA Tournament — including the Hawkeyes’ 1987 Elite Eight team that reached No. 1 in the national polls after starting the season 18-0.

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The 6-7 forward was perhaps best known for his ability to dunk a basketball, earning the nickname “Sir Jam-A-Lot” — a moniker the Big Ten Network ranked No. 4 on its list of best nicknames in conference hoops history.

Ken Fullard knows firsthand what it’s like to be dunked on by Wright, having been his college roommate and Hawkeye teammate in 1985. Fullard recalled a pickup game in which Wright completed a 180-degree backwards jam that broke the rim.

“He is by far the best dunker ever. At any level,” Fullard said. “When he got a steal he’d get this little skip or gallop and you knew something nasty was about to happen. Ask anybody. He was phenomenal at dunking the ball.”

Although he only played for Tom Davis for one season, Wright without hesitation called him the greatest coach he’d ever played for.

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“Tom Davis taught me everything,” he said. “Oddly enough, no one ever taught me to shoot a basketball until Tom Davis. I was a college senior, and I couldn’t shoot outside of two feet. Luckily, I had the athleticism to get to the rim. That’s where the dunking came from. I set the Iowa record for field goal percentage as a junior because I dunked everything.”

Despite being selected by the Detroit Pistons in the fifth round of the 1987 NBA Draft, Wright opted to join the Navy to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut. During his service, he played basketball part-time for the Pensacola Tornados of the CBA.

After the Navy, he had a five-year career in law enforcement as a police officer in Los Angeles and Santa Monica County before returning to the University of Iowa to be an on-campus recruiting coordinator.

He went overseas and played professional hoops in Europe. That’s where he met his wife of 14 years.

In the offseason, the former Hawkeye worked in Germany as an exercise specialist. As his hoops career was winding down, a physical therapist and athletic trainer in Germany referred him to be the exercise specialist for the royal family of Saudi Arabia — a job Wright held for nearly two years.

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To pass the time in Saudi Arabia, he began jotting down dating advice for a friend who was asking for help. Those notes became Wright’s book, “Straight Talk” — a two-volume self-help guide on women, dating and relationships.

Since returning the United States in 2001, Wright’s focus has been on coaching and education, a passion the former Hawkeye has exhibited since his playing days at Iowa.

“He never wanted to be pigeon-holed as just being a basketball player,” Fullard said. “He was always a leader with our group as far as school and education. I’m not surprised he ended up teaching and mentoring kids.”

Although he’s enjoyed his fair share of coaching success over the years, Wright’s measuring stick for his accomplishments isn’t simply wins and losses. He doesn’t revel about conference titles as much as team GPA’s, diplomas and graduate degrees earned by his former players.

“If I judge my coaching success solely on players going on to professional basketball careers, then I’m failing miserably,” he said. “I judge by quality of life and education. What I enjoy most about teaching and coaching is seeing kids go on to pursue their passions, and come back to tell me I was a turning point for them. That’s very rewarding. It lets you know you’re doing something worthwhile.”


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