Wright is Still Around, But it’s Neptune’s Turn


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Neptune addressing Nova Nation at Hoops Mania 2022.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

Jay Wright isn’t gone from Villanova basketball. Both literally and figuratively. 

Wright was in attendance as the Wildcats bested the La Salle Explorers on Monday night, and even if he wasn’t physically at the game, it would have been hard not to see the Naismith Hall of Fame coach. The pre-game video lists Wright’s accomplishments, all of which you’ve heard before. Wright is on the video board at the half explaining the 2022 edition of the Hoops for Haiti program. Students are still wearing “All Wright All Wright All Wright” t-shirts. 

And while all this can make it easy to temporarily forget who’s actually on the sideline for the Wildcats, looking at said sideline can provide a swift reminder. It’s impossible to miss Kyle Neptune, in a well-tailored suit, emphatically coaching his team.

Neptune faces one of the tallest tasks in all of college basketball this season. He’s expected to replace the program’s all-time winningest head coach in Wright. If anybody’s nervous about that, it’s not Neptune.

“I slept like a baby,” Neptune said post-game Monday when asked how he slept the night before. 

It would be hard to find anyone more well equipped to take control of the program than Neptune. He had already spent so much time in the program (11 years, to be exact) that the mentality of a Villanova coach is already second nature to him.

“I get all the hype,” Neptune said. “First game, Big 5 game, brand new coach’s first game, all that stuff, but coming into the game and just being a part of this program for so long, I think everyone here has a unique resolve. All we think about is playing and coaching for each other, that’s all we truly think about. When you do that and you think that way, there’s nothing to be nervous about.” 

Monday’s game indicated that the transition between Wright and Neptune should be smooth when it comes to basketball. The Wildcats still have a hard-nosed, defensive, smart style of play. The ‘Cats will still dive for loose balls, draw charges and box out hard. 

However, Neptune is often tasked with replacing Wright not only as a coach, but also as a figure. Over his tenure, Wright became emblematic of Villanova as a whole, a kind of symbol for the University. And with Wright sticking around the University in his role of Special Advisor to the President, he continues to be a representative for Villanova on both a community level and a national level. 

Wright’s presence will always inform Neptune’s tenure as head coach, no matter how long and prosperous, just in the same way that Wright’s tenure was always influenced by the late Rollie Massimino. At the end of the 2016 title game, after Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater, the first cut away from the court that CBS chose to make wasn’t to Wright or a Wildcat player, but rather to Massimino in the stands. 

No one understands this better than Neptune himself. He knows that replacing Wright is a complex task, and one that will never really be complete. But Neptune is up for the challenge to continue on the high standard of Villanova basketball. 

“I never focused on not being Jay,” Neptune said on media day. “I mean he’s a Hall of Famer, to me the best coach in college basketball over the last 10 years, I would like to be a lot like him.”

If all goes well for the Wildcats over the next decade or so, Neptune will take his place among the lineage of legendary men’s basketball coaches alongside Wright and Massimino. There will come a time when we discuss Neptune as the head coach of Villanova basketball rather than Wright’s successor. There will come a time when we discuss Neptune as a beloved campus figure. For now, Neptune still has some winning to do before he sheds that “successor” label. 

But, Neptune does have something that Wright doesn’t: a win over La Salle in his first year of being the head coach of Villanova basketball.