Jay Wright: Big man on campus

Cailin Brophy

Media darling. Recruiting wizard. Charismatic. Sharp-dressed. These are only a few of the monikers that have been attached to Villanova men’s head basketball coach Jay Wright as he enters his second season on the Main Line.

If students and fans thought the media hype during Wright’s hiring was extensive, they now realize that was only a taste of things to come in the Jay Wright era at Villanova.

After recruiting one of the top classes in the nation, the buzz surrounding this year’s Wildcat squad has become a deafening roar. Yet it is precisely Wright’s poise under pressure which should enable him to keep this team of talented freshmen and proven veterans focused and on the “Wright” track.

No one doubts the talent of the fabled freshman. However, the Seton Hall debacle is still fresh in the minds of college hoops coaches and fans alike. Coach Wright, however, is well-aware of the obstacles and pitfalls that can come with such a highly-touted incoming class.

“I think there’s going to be some games this year where fans are going to remember and realize real quickly that they are freshman,” Wright warned. “But that’s OK because it will be a good learning process for them and they’re very excited.”

The level of excitement and anticipation exuded by Wright has been apparent from the very beginning of his head coaching tenure.

When the Philadelphia-area native signed with the ‘Cats last year, he not only returned to his roots but also his former stomping grounds, where he was an assistant under the legendary Rollie Massimino.

He made an immediate impact, coaching the Wildcats to a 19-13 overall record, including impressive wins over St. Joseph’s, UCLA and Temple before succumbing to the rival Owls in the quarterfinals of the NIT. Wright’s squad also proved that it could hang with the top teams in its conference, giving eventual Big East champ UConn a scare in the second round of the Big East tourney before losing a 72-70 heartbreaker in the waning seconds of the game.

While it has been his inaugural recruiting class that has skyrocketed the expectations, Wright knows he will have to rely upon his proven core of veterans to lead the team through the season.

Enter the senior trio of Gary Buchanan, Andrew Sullivan and Ricky Wright, a reliable trio which will have to support the untested freshmen.

“I am very proud of what they’ve done over the spring and summer to show themselves as leaders,” Wright said. “People respect what you do, not what you say, and the way they’ve carried themselves from the end of last season until now has earned them the respect of the guys on the team.”

What Wright hopes the team can earn early on is the respect of the critics, who have thrust this team into the national spotlight, as well.

He’s counting on his senior leaders to impart to basketball fledglings the pride and tradition of Villanova basketball.

“[The national spotlight] is something that they’ve earned from last year’s team building a reputation,” Wright points out. “It says that if you invite ‘Nova to a tournament and put them on national television, they’ll play their hearts out.”

Coach Wright’s charisma has motivated not only the team but has affected the entire Villanova community. Acknowledging the fans after every game, sending e-mails thanking students for their support and having the team enter begin each home game with a run through the “Bleacher Creatures” of the student section are just a few examples of Wright’s commitment to the Villanova student body.

The culmination of his efforts led to what has undoubtedly become one of his greatest contributions to Villanova basketball heritage.

Wright has revitalized the pep rally in the form of Hoops Mania, an extravaganza celebrating the start of the basketball season, introducing both the men’s and women’s basketball teams to the students while ushering in the new season in style. Wright, perhaps more than most collegiate coaches, recognizes the immense importance of fan support and how much a pep rally like Hoops Mania means to the teams.

“It’s a big part of the program and I love it,” he said. “That’s what college basketball is all about. Our guys really appreciate what our students do, and I know I do. We’re lucky to have them and we want them to keep being a part of Villanova basketball.”