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Welcome to the 2024 version of Western Carolina University’s “The Black Fantastic.” This is a series that began in 2022 when the University Communications and Marketing team wanted to find a way to highlight excellence among a few of WCU’s Black faculty and staff members. The award-winning project has been so well-received that we decided to center this year’s version around some of WCU’s outstanding African American students.

Vonterius Woolbright, Sr., Albany, Georgia

vertical Vonterius Woolbright with player stats

It started with being named the Southern Conference Preseason Player of the Year. From there, the accolades and honors have just been pouring in for Western Carolina University’s Vonterius Woolbright, a senior on the men’s basketball team.

While Woolbright was counting on having a big year this season, even he couldn’t have predicted his latest achievement. He recently tied a Southern Conference single-season record when he was named the league’s Player of the Week for the eighth time. That ties SoCon Hall of Famer and current Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry’s mark set during the 2008-09 season.

“It feels good,” Woolbright said. “It’s showing that all the work is paying off. All the praying is paying off. Working without worrying about the end result is starting to pay off. It just gives you motivation to keep going, keep pushing. You never know what will happen in the end.”

But wait. There’s more. Woolbright leads the NCAA with 23 double-doubles this season. He also leads the country with three triple-doubles, while also setting a WCU record with four career triple-doubles in his three seasons in Cullowhee.

Other accolades this season include being named the SoCon Player of the Month all three times this season and being named the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week twice by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

All this while being on the cusp of leading the Catamounts to their first 20-win season since the 2009-10 season. His goal all along has been for WCU to win the SoCon tournament championship and play in the NCAA Tournament.

“Since this is my last year, I’m trying to make history around here,” Woolbright said. “It would mean a lot to me because making history is something I really want to do. My first year really wasn’t good for me, individually or as a team. I want to leave here being a winner. That would be a tremendous thing for me.”

Woolbright came to WCU from Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was a NJCAA honorable mention All-American after his sophomore season, averaging 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Assistant coach Zack Freesman was instrumental in his decision to come to WCU.

Woolbright grew up in Albany, Georgia, where he was heavily influenced by his grandmother, Diane McCray. He ate dinner with her every night while she made sure he did his homework.

Woolbright began playing organized basketball in the fifth grade. But he also played football and basketball, developing a love for each. It was around the ninth grade that he made the decision to concentrate on basketball.

“I started getting a little noise with basketball more than the other sports,” Woolbright said. “I was better at basketball at that point.”

In this age of players hitting the transfer portal in search of name, image and likeness deals, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Woolbright had left WCU for a bigger school after averaging 14.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists last season.

But that was the farthest thing from Woolbright’s mind. He had some unfinished business to attend to in Cullowhee.

“It was my last year and I wanted to be around people that I’m close with, connected with, so I could have fun and not stress about anything when I play basketball,” he said. “So, I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that I was going to come back.”

With just a couple of weeks left in Woolbright’s record-breaking, history-making regular season, he knows that there is still plenty of work to be done. In the meantime, watch out Steph Curry.

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