Hidden Heroes: The Story Behind the “Bench Mob”



Hidden Heroes: The Story Behind the “Bench Mob”

Mike Keeley

Often labeled as “GPA Boosters” by their detractors, the Wildcats’ Bench Mob served an unheralded but vital role in the team’s success not only this season but throughout the past half-decade.

“Tremendous young men, big parts of our program,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said. “Those guys get treated like everybody else and they are just as important.”

Whether it’s with individual workouts, team practices, or in preparing opposition scouting reports, the Bench Mob members are the true glue guys of Villanova Basketball. Anything that needs to be done, they do it. They fill the cracks. 

“It’s kind of like being a player-coach,” senior forward Tom Leibig explained.

In addition to their success on the court, the Bench Mob often excels in the classroom.  Just this past week, one of their own, senior guard Matt Kennedy, won the men’s basketball Elite 90 award. In basketball, the Elite 90 is given to the athlete on a Final Four team with the highest GPA for that year. 

“They’re great students,” Wright said. “They represent our team on campus and in the community.” 

“It’s a testament to the community at Villanova,” Kennedy deflected. “The professors, it took a whole community to get that award.” 

The ability members of the Bench Mob have to handle their responsibilities as “player-coaches” and excel academically stems from the mindset that results from the rigorous and long initiation process all Wildcats walk-on players go through. Becoming a member of the Bench Mob is by no means easy, no matter the talent of the player. 

“You start as a practice player, then you have to earn your spot,” Wright said. While the Bench Mob players are full-fledged members of Wright’s team and enjoy the perks that come with that, life as a practice player is a whole different world. No recognition, no preferential class selection or housing times and, chief among all else, no traveling with the team to games. Not to mention that only a lucky few are selected to actually become walk-ons—the large majority of practice players are not so fortunate.

After redshirting the Wildcats 2016 championship season following his transfer from Fordham, junior forward Eric Paschall can relate to life on both sides of the sideline. 

“Of course, you always want to be playing,” Paschall said of life on the sidelines. “But at the end of the day, you just want to help the team.”

And now that he has played two seasons with the Wildcats and helped to lead them to a national championship, Paschall knows exactly the value the Bench Mob brings to the table everyday. 

“Our walk-ons are great, they do everything for us,” he said. “They rebound, they never complain, and they hold us accountable just like the coaches do.”

Wildcats fans may not see the work the Bench Mob puts in off the court, but without the walk-ons filling the gaps between the players and the coaches, the Wildcats probably wouldn’t be celebrating their second national title in three years.