Tanisha Wright observes a play from the bench. Photo by Chris Crews

March Madness has just ended.

Villanova won the title on the men’s side, while Notre Dame hit two consecutive buzzer beaters in the Final Four to win the title for the women. At Charlotte, the offseason women’s basketball workouts have started up, and there’s a familiar face in the gym: Tanisha Wright. However, Wright is now on the floor working out, instead of being on the sidelines.

Wright, a member of the 49ers’ coaching staff this past season, is returning to the WNBA after a year off and recently signed with the Minnesota Lynx as a free agent. And, while she didn’t suit up to play this year, it’s clear that she’s still got it.

“I think I stepped away to figure out things, to see what other opportunities that were out there,” Wright said. “I like to stay in shape. I stay in shape and I work on my game as much as I can because I like to grow and get better. I never really stopped doing that. I took some time to get in shape to be able to prepare myself for a training camp. And once I felt like my body was okay and mentally I was okay, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it.”

This year, Wright was a part of the coaching staff that oversaw a young Charlotte team. The 49ers had a few growing pains early on, losing multiple games in the non-conference slate by three points or less. However, the team rebounded in the conference portion of the schedule, scoring 10 conference wins before falling in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament to finish 14-16.

Now, as the semester nears its end, Wright will be preparing to join the Lynx, the franchise that won the WNBA Finals last year on the strength of Sylvia Fowles and Maya Moore.

“Joining a group that already has championship pedigree, being able to bring that and because it is a veteran group who’s been together for years, they already have a cohesiveness about them… really, it’s about adding on and being a support system to the rest of the people that are there,” Wright said. “Obviously, I wanna perform up to my abilities, but it’s really being a servant leader at this point.”

Wright is no stranger to the spotlight. A stellar collegiate athlete at Penn State, Wright played for the Seattle Storm from 2005 to 2014, and won a ring with the Storm in 2010 alongside Swin Cash, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. She averaged 9.2 points that year, helping the squad bring the title home, and she’ll be looking to reach the pinnacle again this year.

“It does not matter; you can be the best college player at that level, but when you get to the League, you’re gonna find someone who’s bigger, somebody who’s faster, and somebody who’s stronger. So really, it’s just about developing your game, continuing to get better year in and year out. And if you do that, the sky’s the limit,” Wright said.

For Wright, the relationships she has built as each level have been priceless. Head coach Cara Consuegra was a graduate assistant at Penn State when Wright was playing, and the two stayed in contact throughout her career. Wright noted the pointers she’ll take from Charlotte when she reports to Minneapolis.

“The main difference is you see the game completely different. You’re no longer out there performing it. When you’re on the court, you have all the ability in the world to make plays happen,” Wright said when explaining the differences between playing and coaching. “When you’re on the sidelines, you don’t necessarily have those abilities, so you try to impart that on the players that you’re coaching. The perspective of the game is probably the main [thing]… and what I can take to [the League] is the perspective… the understanding everything that leads up to coaches preparing players for a game.”

While she played for Penn State, Wright agreed that C-USA is a sleeper for talent. Redshirt senior Nyilah Jamison-Myers was invited to two pre-draft camps for the WNBA, and Wright says that there are more players in the conference who could make it to the next level.

“You can be a good talent that wasn’t seen—Conference USA, we’re a smaller conference so we’re not seen as much as the Power 5 schools,” Wright said. “You can be a kid who’s not seen as much, but if you’re put in the right situation when you go to the professionals, your game can blossom, you can get better and become somebody who people ‘slept on.’ At the end of the day, we’re all basketball players. It’s what you’re willing to do to grow your game, to get better each and every day and the amount of time you’re willing to put into it.”

Wright will once again have the ability to make plays on the floor for Minnesota.

In 2016, she averaged 6.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28 starts for the New York Liberty. She’ll undoubtedly look to add to those numbers again. And, while her stay in Charlotte was short, Niner Nation will be sure to cheer on Wright when she suits up this year. Minnesota’s season tips off on May 20 as they will take on the Los Angeles Sparks in the Target Center.

Zach Timmons, better known as ZT, is a junior at UNC Charlotte. He is an English major and is also minoring in journalism. In his free time, ZT enjoys writing spoken word poetry, drawing, and making beats.