Standing against a wall that is just feet from the sideline in South Boston’s shoebox of a gymnasium on a recent afternoon, Chris McCarthy was displeased with his daughter’s play against Brighton High, a team that had only two victories on the season.
The Knights ended up winning the game easily but the father of South Boston’s junior point guard has high standards for his daughter, Elaina Wright-McCarthy, when it comes to basketball. After all, Wright-McCarthy’s older sister, Amanda McCarthy, is the starting senior point guard at Division 1 Jacksonville State in Alabama.
So saying they had a sisterly rivalry on the court growing up would be putting it mildly.
“A lot of scraped knees, bruised elbows and banged heads, but that’s the way it was,” he said. “They played. [Wright-McCarthy] battled.”
For Wright-McCarthy, having a sister who plays college basketball is both a “blessing and a curse” — but mostly a blessing.
“We’re sisters, we fight, we argue but at the end of the day we love each other,” she said. “She’s my rock. She pushes me. She’s the reason why I do it.”
The South Boston sisters spent this past summer working out together, practicing ball handling and playing countless games of one-on-one. Wright-McCarthy says she actually took a few games off her big sister, who actually isn’t so big. She’s the same height as little sis (5-foot-5-inches) even though she is listed at a wishful 5-8 on Jacksonville State’s roster.
“Yes, she has beaten me at one-on-one a few times,” McCarthy admitted during a telephone interview on Wednesday night, “but she failed to mention all the times I beat her. It’s alright, it happens. I’m happy she has the confidence to say that. She’s a trip.”
McCarthy was also happy that her little sister committed to working out with her this past summer, putting in at least two hours a day.
“You can’t make somebody else want it, they have to want it themselves,” said McCarthy, who spent three seasons at Savio Prep in East Boston before collecting 21 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds per game while maintaining a 4.0 GPA during her senior season at Pope John in Everett.
“She has to want to work at it and she finally decided she wants to work at it and she has raw talent that is untouched and only can be further developed. ... I love her dearly, I wish her the best and I’m eager to get back home to watch her senior year and train and help her get wherever she wants to get to [in college basketball], whether that is Division 1, 2 or 3; whatever it is.”
Wright-McCarthy is eager to attend one of her big sister’s college games for the first time during February vacation. She has only watched her sister play for Jacksonville State on television or on the Internet.
The Feb. 23 game against Southeast Missouri will also be senior night at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“I’m excited,” said Wright-McCarthy, who is averaging 13.5 points and 4 rebounds per game for the Knights. “I’ve seen women’s college games and men’s college games, but I’ve never seen a college game down in Alabama, it’s always been local. It’s going to mean a lot to me because it’s my sister.”
McCarthy’s twin brother, Michael McCarthy, also starred in basketball at Savio and Dexter High four years ago.
Wright-McCarthy attended Gate of Heaven in middle school before it closed and then she attended South Boston Catholic Academy for eighth grade. But when it came time for her to go to high school three years ago, her family could not afford to send another child to private school because of the downturn in the economy.
She attended the now defunct Odyssey High, which was part of the South Boston Educational Complex, her freshman year, and did not have a good experience.
“I was disappointed because I wasn’t learning to my capacity so I was asking teachers for extra work,” the straight-A student said. “I couldn’t go beyond and above like I could at a private school. It’s a lot harder to get noticed because there’s certain things teachers have to teach and at private school they could teach me other things.”
Still a straight-A student at the two-year old Boston Green Academy, which is also housed in the South Boston Education Complex, Wright-McCarthy is much happier in her academic life. But while she said she believes a private school would be better for her basketball development, she is more than happy to be playing for South Boston coach Andrea Higgins, who played for Boston University and graduated in 1993.
“Elaina sees the court very well and she’s a great passer,” Higgins said. “She’s someone who we can go to when we need the last basket. She’s definitely a coachable kid. No matter what I ask her to do she does it. If they are playing a box-and-one on her and I tell her to do nothing but set screens and don’t even go after the ball, she does and she does whatever it takes to win.
“She is [a vocal player] because she’s passionate about basketball. She tries to do whatever she can to help our team and she tries to get our girls to focus in on what they are supposed to be doing. She seems to know what she wants and wants everyone else to fall in with her.”
Higgins and Wright-McCarthy actually used to play against each other in a women’s recreation league at the Tynan Community Center when Elaina was in middle school. Elaina would go to the gym to shoot around and when teams in the league needed an extra player she filled the void.
“I used to be afraid of her and wouldn’t go near her,” Wright-McCarthy said. “It was funny, and then she ended up being my coach.”
Coach and pupil still butt heads occasionally because Higgins often rides her point guard to be more selfish with the ball.
“That’s my thing, I’m good at passing,” Wright-McCarthy said. “But I can shoot. I can score.”
Wright-McCarthy, who is the only white player on South Boston’s team, is also glad to be playing for the Knights because she has made some of her best friends on the team, including co-captain Daitannah Smith.
“Things would certainly be different if I went to a boarding school or private school,” she said. “I would’ve learned, I would’ve been ahead. Basketball wise I think I would be ahead as well.”
But she is not crying ‘woe is me.’
“I didn’t mind coming here,” she said. “I’ve met my best friends and have great teachers now. They care about me and they want me to go above and beyond and I’m learning in all my classes but I would’ve liked to go to a private school. I don’t know which one, not far away, because my sister went to a boarding school in Worcester [for a post-grad year] and I wouldn’t like to have gone there.
“As of now I believe I’m in the best possible situation.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.