Gannon Head Women’s Basketball Coach Cleve Wright has led his team to success on the court many times in his career. The veteran coach guided the Golden Knights to a 233-100 record with five 20-win seasons and five NCAA tournament appearances in his first stint from 2002 to 2013. He returned in 2019 and in three seasons has led Gannon to back-to-back PSAC championships and two more NCAA tournament berths while going 62-14.
But the team gained a different dynamic when Emma Wright ’21 transferred from Grand Valley State to Gannon University where she now plays for Coach Wright – her father.
Until Emma decided to transfer, playing for her father wasn’t a priority.
Gannon’s women’s basketball team became back-to-back PSAC Champions in March 2022.
“Me and (my dad) always said that it wasn’t something we were going to do. … I respected him so much, but I wanted him as a dad and didn’t want him as coach at that time,” Emma said. “We only discussed it after I said to him, ‘I’m transferring.’ That decision was made, and it was like OK, my options are open. He brought it up to me, and then it was my decision.”
Emma took the chance, becoming a key component of a Gannon basketball team that went from battling a season impacted by COVID-19 in 2020 to finishing at 24-7 this year.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard. It’s not hard,” Cleve said, leaning back in his chair to reflect on what it’s like to coach his daughter. “Emma does a great job as a player of keeping that line between player and coach. … She doesn’t want to be treated any differently when it comes to basketball or when it comes to anything to do with the team.”
“That first year was probably a little harder for me because I had to really separate her in my mind. I was probably way harder on her than I should have been the first year. Things were certainly better this year,” Cleve said.
Emma became a leader and a key defensive performer in her second year. The bigger the game, the better she played. The 5’11” guard was named the MVP of the PSAC Tournament while scoring 15 points and pulling down eight rebounds in a semifinal win over Kutztown University, followed by a 19-point effort in the championship game win over California University. A week later, she dropped in a career-high 25 points in an overtime loss to Shepherd University in the NCAA Tournament.
Emma was also named the PSAC Champion Scholar at the start of the PSAC Final Four. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Gannon in 2021 and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA.
“She brings a high work ethic, works extremely hard,” Cleve said of his daughter. “Very committed. A truly caring teammate. (She is) a really good shooter, takes pride in her defense, defends and rebounds. She does a lot of things well. Her coming here made us a better team.”
“(She is) a really good shooter, takes pride in her defense, defends and rebounds. She does a lot of things well. Her coming here made us a better team.” - Cleve Wright
“We want someone who is not going to be just a great player but a great teammate. Emma certainly embodies both of those,” he added.
The father-daughter duo agrees it takes a special person to help them balance this unique dynamic. For them, that person is Diane Wright – Cleve’s wife and Emma’s mother.
“Oh boy, is she the key to life for me,” Emma said, grinning. “I could not do life without her at all. … I can tell her anything. She has truly been my biggest supporter and encourager and teacher of life that I could have ever asked for. I could not do this or anything without her.”
Cleve said he’s grateful for the support of his wife of 32 years.
“Again, a lot like Emma, she’s done a great job of handling it so well,” he said. “When Emma was playing at Grand Valley, I could be dad and we could talk through things, and I could help her understand her coach. That’s gone. Her mom helps her to process things – not just the basketball part, but really all her life. For Emma, that has been healthy for her to have a mother to help her process that.”
Emma Wright ’21 brings the energy to the court as a guard on Gannon’s women’s basketball team.
The spirit of the competition has always been a part of the Wright family’s lives.
“My childhood life revolved around going to the games,” Emma said. “Each Saturday was game day. Going to go there with my mom, my sister, same sweatshirt. You know what I mean? It was game day, our family Christmas every week. I was very excited for it.”
By Bob Shreve, assistant director of athletics media relations