KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BVM) — Dominic James Wright is a former college basketball star that many remember from his days playing at Marquette University from 2005-09. Since that time in Milwaukee, he has played professional basketball at numerous spots overseas.
However, this spring, while playing for the Banyas Sports Club in Abu Dhabi, James Wright had his basketball season canceled, as did many athletes around the world. After the season was wrapped up, the basketball star and his family looked to return home to Tennessee. However, that would prove much tougher than anyone would have thought.
Before playing in Abu Dhabi, James Wright had played in Doha, Qatar for the last ﬁve seasons. Previously, the pro hooper had also played in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Italy, and France. Although similar, James Wright says there are some differences playing overseas which have helped him improve his game.
“The European style is very different, but it has helped me a lot in my growth,” James Wright said. “They’re very fundamentally sound so just being able to learn the game from a different point of view, I feel like my basketball IQ has risen tremendously.”
The 5-foot-11 guard has shined while playing overseas, picking up several accolades including MVP awards, ﬁrst-team all-import, Defensive Player of the Year, and winning several national championships.
James Wright credits much of his success and development to his wife, Angela Phillips Wright, who has been his personal trainer. Basketball has also been a big part of Angela’s life, as she played collegiately at Kentucky and Indiana State. With Dominic playing professionally, the sport has remained a centerpiece for them, and in fact, he actually proposed to his wife during a dunk contest in Italy.
With life revolving around basketball, it was a real surprise when not only Dominic’s season was canceled, but also when the family saw the suspension of the NBA season and cancellation of March Madness back home.
“Our family is very sports-oriented and basketball has always been a constant. When all of this started coming about it was deﬁnitely a shock,” Dominic said.
As former college athletes themselves, it was tough for Dominic and Angela to see seniors, such as a fellow Marquette star Markus Howard, go out without properly ﬁnishing their careers.
“There are a lot of unfortunate scenarios where your season might come to an end, but nobody could imagine that a disease like this would come into play. It makes it an even tougher situation because your hands are tied and it’s out of your control,” Dominic added.
The Wright family was enjoying their time living in Abu Dhabi, and also liked being able to ﬁt in with the culture and raise their kids into it both there and in Qatar. But with Dominic’s season over, and an unsettled time with the COVID-19 pandemic, the family decided it was best to come home to Tennessee. However, that would turn out to be an extremely difficult task.
The ﬁrst issue for the family was having to wait until the season was officially canceled, which would end Dominic’s contract. In addition, this was at the time President Trump had issued a warning for Americans who were overseas to come home. This put the family in a tough spot, essentially giving them 48 hours to get out of Abu Dhabi before the airport was shut down.
But there would unfortunately be more problems that the Wright family would run into. After ﬁnally booking a trip home, they learned there was an issue with their visa paperwork, resulting in missing that ﬂight. All ﬂights back to the United States were gone by the time the issue was resolved, giving them just one option – a midnight ﬂight to Ireland, which did not work out either.
“We were just desperate to make that last ﬂight knowing that was our last chance to get out,” Angela said. “Just a couple hours before we were heading back to the airport to make that ﬂight, Dominic came in the room with a complete pale look on his face and showed me the ﬂight had been cancelled.”
After another unfortunate moment for the family, they began running out of options. That’s when Angela turned to social media for help. She made a post on Facebook to try to get any contact information she could for the governor of Tennessee, and hours later the post had hundreds of comments and shares.
Soon after, they were contacted by several different government personnel from Tennessee, doing what they could to get the Wright family home. The amount of support they got on social media meant the world to Dominic and Angela, especially from families of participants of Camp Daniel, a basketball clinic put on by the family for special needs kids in honor of Angela’s late brother.
“It was really humbling for us and it really meant a lot. I think what touched us the most was so many of the parents of the participants at Camp Daniel really vouched for us and helped get the word out,” Angela said.
After a truly trying process, the basketball family ﬁnally found a way home, as the U.S. Embassy sent a text notifying them they had a ﬂight available to Washington, D.C. It was a moment of joy and relief for Angela, but Dominic was waiting to celebrate until all was said and done.
“I was just walking around completely giddy,” Angela said. “Dominic kept a straight face because he said ‘until we are on that plane I am not going to celebrate’,” Angela continued.
The U.S. Ambassador that was at the airport was actually a fellow Marquette grad, lightening the mood for Dominic. The family ﬁnally ﬂew home and had a joyous reunion with Angela’s parents back in Tennessee. It was a tough process, but the family credits their faith for getting them back.
“Whether it’s being stuck in a foreign country or striving to reach your goals in sports, the number one thing is placing your faith in God and being able to keep that faith,” Angela said.
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This journey has been a testimony to God’s faithfulness but before we share that we need to say THANK YOU! US Ambassador, John Rakolta, (pictured here) met us at the airport in Abu Dhabi and let us know that 🇦🇪 UAE🇦🇪 did something unprecedented by offering to take us (and about 30 other Americans) back to the States for free by the amazing @etihadairways . He told us UAE officials made this decision because of the close relationship they share with USA and because so many of you showed your concern for us and other Americans stranded. We are incredibly grateful & humbled. From sharing our FB post, to tagging politicians, spreading the news stories, reaching out to your contacts,and praying for us…. you each truly made a difference for us! We understand how undeserving we are as so many other Americans are still stranded abroad.🙏🏽 A special thank you to a few TN politicians who truly worked to help make this happen. @repchuck @marshablackburn @ltgovmcnally @senalexander & their teams! ——————————— US State Dept US ambassador John Rakolta @rakoltajr @etihadairways UAE Government ————————————- Local news WBIR- @alexmyerstv WATE – @elizabethkuebeltv 105.7news.com – Scott Humphrey & all of you who were concerned with us making it home!❤️ ——————————— We have made it in the US and we have 1 more flight and we will be in the hills of Tennessee! THANK YOU JESUS!
Faith was not only important for the family in this situation, but is something they count on within basketball, and everything they do in life.
“Faith is what brought us together,” Dominic said when discussing he and Angela. “From the moment that we met it was number one. Our faith has sustained us in every situation. No matter what it is that we are doing we try to make sure that Jesus is at the center of it.”
Basketball may be over for the season, but Dominic and Angela will still ﬁnd ways to keep busy. A Richmond, Ind. native, Dominic continues to get more acclimated to Tennessee and get in touch with the community. Angela has even gotten him more involved with her country roots.
“I have to say I’ve turned Dominic into more of a country boy. He’s doing things he never would’ve imagined doing. He loves hunting now and we really enjoy shooting our guns and bows and enjoying the country life,” Angela said.
The time off gives the parents even more moments to spend with their kids as well. The couple has a 13-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 2-year-old at home, and they love every minute with them. Now, they will look to start training them along with other youth players in the game they love.
“The majority of our emphasis while being home will be on training kids,” Dominic said. We just feel that we have a wealth of knowledge that we can pour into the next generation.”
“We are excited to start training kids, and allowing them to have that unique experience of training outside and kind of doing things the old school way that we did growing up,” Angela added.
In addition to the family basketball time, the couple also produces content on their Youtube channel, Neek + Ang. The videos feature a wide array of topics, but are consistent with what is most important to the family.
“We really just want to focus on sports and faith and use those two things to especially be able to encourage and inspire families,” Angela said.
The Wright family can thankfully move on and now spend a relaxed summer back home. Still though, the thought of being stranded in Abu Dhabi at one point was a scary one.
“That’s just not a scenario that you want to encounter,” Dominic said. “Unfortunately this occurred, but thankfully we were able to make it home.”
It’s a situation none of us hope to ever be in, but luckily through their hard work and others’ support, Dominic, Angela, and the kids are back in Tennessee. With everything they do on and off the court, and the character this family has, our country is lucky to have them back.