The Road Ends Here: Samuels and Gillespie’s Final Weekend in Villanova Jerseys


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Graduates Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels are enjoying every minute of their final Villanova weekend.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

NEW ORLEANS — The signs are everywhere in New Orleans. They’re impossible to miss. If someone didn’t know that the Final Four was here this weekend, that the National Championship would be held in the Superdome on Monday night, one slogan makes it blatantly clear.

The Road Ends Here.

Few things are certain in the world of college basketball. In a sport where anything can change in an instant, everything could be different when the sun rises on Tuesday, but there are a few certainties.

There will be a national champion.

That champion will not be Delaware, Ohio State, Michigan, Houston, or any other team Villanova has knocked out in its tournament run.

Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will have played their last games at Villanova.

The Road Ends Here.

Regardless of whether the season ends Saturday or Monday night, the three members of the 2017 recruiting class will leave Villanova as some of the most decorated players in Villanova history. The three are already national champions, winning the title in 2018, and the three contributed to three Big East regular season championships, three conference tournament titles and four March Madness appearances.

However, the three’s impact off the court may be even more important. Cosby-Roundtree has struggled with injuries during his time at Villanova, yet he has taken on an unofficial “player-coach” role this year, appearing in only six games yet leading the locker room and playing on the scout team, even as a fifth-year senior. Gillespie and Samuels are the stars on the court and have embraced their roles as leaders, teaching younger players about what it means to play Villanova basketball. Gillespie is the Big East Player of the Year, deserving of the right to take a shot whenever he wants, yet Gillespie instead always makes the right play, even when the play involves trusting someone else to take the shot. Samuels was the South Region’s Most Outstanding Player this year, averaging 17.5 points per game throughout the tournament, yet he showed his values most in the first round against Delaware when he dove into the Villanova bench chasing a loose ball with two minutes left, even as the Wildcats led by 20.

“No, that’s not what we do here at Villanova,” Samuels said after the game when asked if he considered just letting the ball go. “We’re going to play a full 40. That’s just the way we play here no matter what’s going on around us.”

Samuels, Gillespie and Cosby-Roundtree have embodied Villanova basketball better than practically any other class, playing “Villanova basketball” in every game they’ve appeared on the court in their five years with the team. Head coach Jay Wright is trying to ignore that it’s his last weekend coaching the three.

“Definitely you do not think about it at all because it’s almost like you don’t want to. But when that last game hits, it hits you like a ton of bricks,” Wright said Saturday. “And that’s what makes you emotional… it hits you, this is it for my coaching relationship with Collin Gillespie on the floor, with Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, this is it.”

Rolling into press conferences in the Superdome, Gillespie has seemed at ease. He has been laid back and joking, an entirely different person from the Gillespie that usually visits media availability. In New Orleans, Gillespie, usually only happy on the court, has been even behind a microphone, soaking up the experience and enjoying every moment he has left in a Villanova uniform. 

“I don’t know if I’ve thought about [how] there’s not a next year,” Gillespie said. “Obviously it’s gonna be really weird… I’m trying to appreciate every day, every moment that I get to spend with these guys ‘cause I know it’ll never be like that again, I’ll never get something like this back. I’m definitely trying to appreciate each little thing that’s going on, even this right here.”

The Gillespie that has shown up to the Big Easy has taken that mindset to heart, enjoying every moment and sharing inside jokes with teammates with just a look. When asked about a one-on-one game between him and redshirt senior guard Caleb Daniels when Daniels toured Villanova, Gillespie glanced at his teammates in disbelief before grinning and asking the reporter how he knew about the games. When Samuels was asked which movie would describe Villanova’s tournament run and Samuels responded with “I don’t really watch movies,” Gillespie shook his head and told the crowd under his breath that Samuels was lying.

Typical Gillespie wouldn’t have enjoyed that moment. This Gillespie is loving every bit of it.

Likewise, Samuels is soaking in the experience, but the jovial Samuels in New Orleans is the same Samuels that he’s always been, smiley off the court, a fierce competitor on it. Like Gillespie, his main focus is on the time with his teammates and the game, but he also isn’t taking the experience for granted.

“I’ve just been trying to live in the moment as much as possible,” Samuels said. “All the media stuff is cool, and this whole entire experience is cool, but what it’s going to mean most to me is being on the floor with my brothers. And that’s what I live for. That’s what it means to be in a Villanova jersey.”

As minutes tick away, closer and closer until Saturday’s tipoff at the Superdome, the clock on the super seniors’ careers at Villanova ticks as well. If the Wildcats defeat Kansas and advance to the National Championship, less than 60 hours remain in the Villanova careers of Samuels, Gillespie and Cosby-Roundtree, but if Villanova falls against the Jayhawks, their final moments on the court will be in just six hours. One of the key tenets of Villanova basketball is “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat,” but Wright knows it won’t be the same once his stars are gone, whenever that may happen.

“That’s what makes you really emotional,” Wright said. “I do not look forward to that. But I know it’s going to come.”

However, Wright did say there was one way to avoid that sadness. 

“The great thing [is], if you win, you don’t really deal with that.”

In New Orleans, the road ends here. Gillespie, Samuels and Cosby-Roundtree’s seasons and Villanova careers end here as well. But with at least 40 minutes of Villanova basketball yet to go, the three aren’t done quite yet.