January 11, 2024
For Abigail Wright, Princeton is family — Harvard is home
Harvard's Wright faces Princeton program with many familial ties, including mom Ellen DeVoe
Before current freshman Abigail Wright enrolled at Harvard, the coaching staff would sometimes run into her in Harvard Square, even on days they weren’t expecting her to be around.
Wright grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, just 15 minutes west of Harvard, and she quickly felt comfortable on campus. “I think this place does feel like home to her because it is her home,” Harvard head coach Carrie Moore told The Next. Wright has helped make it feel that way to her teammates, too, whether by singing at the top of her lungs in warm-ups, cracking jokes, or hosting a team holiday party at her family’s house.
Yet, at one point in the recruiting process, Moore had worried that she didn’t have a chance of landing the 6’1 forward/guard. She had just learned about Wright’s family ties to Princeton: Her mother, Ellen DeVoe, had been one of the best players in Princeton history, and her older brother, grandfather and great-uncles had also been Tigers.
When Moore heard she had a chance despite that history, she knew she had to get the local product. And on Saturday, Wright will face the Tigers for the first time in her career, in a home game at Lavietes Pavilion, with DeVoe watching in the stands.
“It’s really thrilling for me to have a daughter who can follow a mother [into college basketball],” DeVoe told The Next as she sat beside Wright. “And that’s happening more and more, but it means a lot to me.”
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As a child, Wright always wanted to copy her older brothers, Jake and Ethan. So she followed them and her mom into basketball, even if at first it was more about the coloring books and snacks that DeVoe brought to the gym than the sport itself.
DeVoe coached Wright’s youth-league team during her elementary and middle school years, and the two butted heads early on.
“I was at an age where I was just, I wanted to be right all the time and fight back,” Wright told The Next. “But … I look back on my time with her as my coach and I owe a lot to her for being where I am today and just [my] skill set and just being a versatile player.”
DeVoe always emphasized rebounding, which isn’t surprising because she’s one of the Ivy League’s all-time best at it. She ranks fourth in Princeton history and in the top 15 in Ivy League history in career rebounds.
“You don’t have to be the best athlete in the world, but there’s a lot of heart in rebounding … I love rebounding. I just think it’s really fun,” DeVoe said. “And that was something we worked on when they were really little, like boxing out, finding a person and all that stuff.”
DeVoe, who is also a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Boston University, didn’t coach Wright in high school or AAU. As Wright got older, mother and daughter started to talk about basketball more, and DeVoe could offer advice. But DeVoe and her husband, Don Wright — a former rower at Yale — were never pushy about the sport. They were often in the stands but didn’t chide Wright for poor performances, and they had a rule that neither parent could call Wright’s coaches.
“We really try to be all about how she’s doing [personally],” DeVoe said, “and then zoom out to, whatever problems there might be … on the basketball court, those are first-world, high-level problems. And so we try to keep a perspective about that.”
Wright gradually learned about DeVoe’s playing career as she got older, but from other family members, not from DeVoe. “She doesn’t really talk about it, ever,” Wright said.
Wright didn’t visit Princeton much, either, until Ethan enrolled and the family started going for his games. When Ethan graduated in 2022 and Wright and her family were there during reunions, she finally got more of a taste of what Princeton had been like for her mother and brother.
Wright’s own recruiting process was compressed and hectic. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled some recruiting events early in her high school career, and entering the spring of her junior year, she had just one college offer. She played well in a few tournaments with her AAU team, MCW Starz, and got several offers. But then she partially tore her MCL, sidelining her for the rest of the spring.
That brief recruiting window was enough to get Wright to Harvard. Moore had just been hired to succeed the retiring Kathy Delaney-Smith, and she was thoroughly impressed when she saw Wright play against Team Takeover, a powerhouse AAU program.
“She was all over the court offensively [and] defensively. She was rebounding like crazy. She was defending, she was on the floor, [getting] 50-50 balls. She had a presence about her,” Moore said. “… [I] offered her without any hesitation. And I just said, ‘Hey, if that’s the best that you can play, we are in really good hands … because what you showed me was tremendous fight and tremendous grit and great effort.’ And that was what I knew we needed.”
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Though Moore and her staff hadn’t coached a game at Harvard yet, they won over Wright and her family. Moore had been an assistant coach at Princeton for three seasons, winning two Ivy League titles. She emphasized that she knew what it would take to win and planned on doing it — which meant going through Princeton.
“With Princeton being good and there being some, you know, history for the both of us, it’s like, who can we get here to really help us beat the best?” Moore said. “Because in order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
Wright also got a call from Carlie Littlefield, who had played under Moore at Princeton and North Carolina and known Ethan at Princeton. Littlefield told Wright about her close relationship with Moore, and that helped seal the deal.
“It seemed like a no-brainer … I had zero reasons that I could say no,” Wright said.
Meanwhile, Princeton didn’t recruit Wright despite the family’s history of success in orange and black. DeVoe was a four-time All-Ivy League selection from 1983 to 1986 and totaled 1,290 points, 942 rebounds and 157 blocks. Her 38 points in a game in 1985 stood as the program record for 34 years, and she still owns the single-game blocks record (nine). She ranks in the top 10 in program history in points per game, total rebounds, total blocks, career field goal percentage and double-doubles.
“I tell her all the time, ‘I wish I could have watched you play,’” Wright said. “I wish that there was more film of it.”
Like her mom, Wright is a rugged rebounder, and she brings toughness and physicality off the bench for the Crimson. At the same time, Wright can stretch the court and shoot — something that wasn’t part of DeVoe’s arsenal.
“I was a post player,” DeVoe said. “Abigail can move around with the ball. She can do things that I never learned how to do … We had a 3-point shot [added to the game] late in my time at Princeton, so I never shot a 3-point shot, never learned how to shoot from that far out. …
“I love watching Abigail because I just think that she’s sort of fearless. And … it’s just fun to watch your kid get out there and play and compete.”
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Wright got off to a fast start at Harvard, winning the season’s first Ivy League Rookie of the Week award. She showed her fearlessness in her debut against a ranked Maryland team, producing 12 points and seven rebounds and frequently ending up in the right place at the right time.
Since then, she’s found herself in foul trouble at times, and she’s struggled with her 3-point shot all season. But, Moore said, she’s made an impact with her defense and rebounding, and she’s constantly been in the gym working to improve.
“She’s super physical. She fouls at times probably too much, and definitely too much for my liking,” Moore said with a laugh. “But it shows signs of her not backing down … If you’re saying, ‘This is a 50-50 ball. Go get this,’ I’ll pick Abigail 99% of the time.”
Overall, Wright is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per game and making 57.6% of her 2-pointers. Her 12.0% total rebounding rate puts her in the 79th percentile nationally, and her 14.1% offensive rebounding rate is in the 97th percentile.
“[I’ve been] trying to find those separators, those little things that I can bring to the table to help my team. So the rebounding is definitely one of those,” Wright said. “Coach Moore and I talk about it a lot, and that’s something … I take a lot of pride in. [It] comes from my mom a lot because it’s not something that people, when were younger, kind of enjoyed doing.”
Moore sees similarities between Wright and an elite rebounder she recruited to Princeton, current senior Ellie Mitchell. The 6’1 Mitchell ranks second in program history with 973 career rebounds and is on pace to break Margaret Meier’s record of 1,099.
“[Mitchell is] a good example for what Abigail could eventually do … because she plays very similar to her. And I think it took a second,” Moore said. “… [Mitchell] had to watch and learn and really figure out how she could help her team … and then she just owns her role now. And I think that’s kind of that growth that Abigail is kind of experiencing this year.”
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Mitchell and Wright will match up on Saturday and again on March 1, which will be Wright’s first trip to Jadwin Gymnasium as a player. Part of her instinctively doesn’t like Jadwin — that’s her “rivalry mentality” — but she said it’ll also be “a really full-circle moment” to play there.
“It would mean kind of the world if we were able to get a win,” she added.
First, though, she’ll look to defend home court and her home city. Before Saturday’s game, Wright expects to get some trash talking from Ethan, who is playing professionally in Romania, over text. Lots of family friends will likely pack Lavietes — “The neighborhood can go,” DeVoe said, referencing the short drive from Newton.
DeVoe will be in the stands with them, and she’s already decided what color she’ll wear.
“I’m following my daughter,” she said. “I’ll go crimson.”
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.