Wildcats warm up for Columbia in exhibition win against Drexel


Marcella Parisi

Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman is finally in action after his controversial year of NCAA ineligibility.

Wyatt Noble

Last Wednesday, Nov. 1, the Wildcats defeated Drexel, 87-68, in an exhibition game to raise money for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. However, the real action begins this coming Friday, Nov. 10, as the Wildcats face Columbia in their first non-conference game of the season. 

Unlike the game against Drexel, this upcoming game against Columbia will count towards the Wildcats’ official record.

Fans can expect the Wildcats to continue their winning ways despite graduating three starters from their 2016-17 roster. In the absence of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds, Jay Wright has added a lot of young talent to his squad to ensure that his team is once again one of the top teams nationwide. In this year’s pre-season AP poll, the Wildcats were ranked sixth overall, whereas in last year’s poll they were ranked fourth.

The three newest freshmen are Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree.

Gillespie was the last of the trio to sign his letter of intent to attend the University this past year. The 6’2” guard is the heir apparent to former Wildcat Ryan Arcidiacono, and looks to be a pass first point guard who will set himself apart with exceptional hustle and playmaking ability. 

Samuels was widely considered one of the nation’s top prospects and earned a ranking in the top 50 on numerous recruiting websites. The 6’6” forward will give opposing defenders headaches with a lethal combination of athleticism and versatility. Samuels also received offers from Kansas, Indiana and Duke.

Cosby-Roundtree is a local talent who hails from Philadelphia. He was considered a top 100 recruit, stands at 6’9” and can play as a forward or a center. During his four-year career at Neumann-Goretti High School, he gained widespread interest from D1 programs for his defensive capabilities. Though his offensive skills are considered raw, many analysts believe he has the potential to be a serious threat on both ends of the court.

In addition to the incoming freshmen, the Wildcats will also be bolstered by the long-awaited debut of Omari Spellman. Spellman was unavailable due to academic ineligibility last season, but the 6’9” big man looks set to make a big impact this year. 

Widely touted as a top level talent, Wright himself has admitted that Spellman may be a one-and-done player.

“Omari knows that the best way to the NBA is by becoming a complete player and a winner,” Wright told Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. “That’s what we’re hoping he becomes this season at Villanova.”

While there are plenty of new faces for Wildcat basketball fans to get excited about, Wright’s team retained most of its core from last year and they will be eager to prove themselves as the competition for starting spots heats up heading into non-conference play.

Junior guard Phil Booth will feature for the Wildcats coming off of last season’s injury. Booth’s scoring talents were sorely missed last season, and the team will surely benefit from return of the man who scored 20 points in the 2016 NCAA National Championship game.

Junior Jalen Brunson returns and will run the floor for the Wildcats and likely play a starring role. Many in the college basketball community have tipped Brunson to enter the NBA Draft after this season. He averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game last season and will be one of the best point guard prospects in college basketball if he continues to improve.

Another returning Wildcat tipped as a prospect for the NBA Draft is redshirt junior, Mikal Bridges. Bridges strengths are his versatility and athleticism, and he can play as both a guard and a forward. He was named co-winner of the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year along with former teammate Hart and Khyri Thomas of Creighton.

The Wildcats also return fellow redshirt junior Eric Paschall. The forward who started his collegiate career at Fordham was a key part of the Wildcats rotation last year and averaged 7.1 points per game. At 6’9”, Paschall is perhaps the Wildcats most explosive player, capable of both thunderous dunks and momentum shifting blocks.

Redshirt sophomore Donte Divincenzo also returns after a breakout season in 2016-17. The athletic guard from Delaware made headlines last season when he tipped in Hart’s shot at the buzzer as the Wildcats upset Virginia, 61-59, on Jan. 29. Divincenzo earned a spot on the BIG EAST All-Freshman team and averaged 8.8 points per game. 

With an excess of talent and depth at every position, Wright and his men are poised to have another strong season.