Nursing a Championship Hangover



Meaghan Bedigian

Kaitlin O’Sullivan/The Villanovan

Jay Wright didn’t get much sleep this summer. With what he called “the busiest off-season ever,” which included facetime with President Barack Obama, VIP seats at the ESPYs and a coaching gig across the Atlantic in Madrid and Barcelona, he’s 4.7 seconds overdue for a nap.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Wright said. “I’ve had some people say to me, ‘how ya doing?’ I say ‘good’ and they say, ‘you look tired.’ But I’m refreshed. I’m ready to go now and I’m psyched about this season.” 

Wright, dubbed the “George Clooney” of coaches by President Obama, was thoroughly impressed by Obama’s insight and connection to college basketball during their visit to the White House this summer.

“The fact that [President Obama] even knows what my name is is enough,” Wright said.

One thing that surprised Wright about his duties as one of only 30 National Championship coaches was the volume of events he was required to attend. 

“There are events that you have to go to that every coach before you has gone to, but you just don’t know that because you never got invited!” Wright said. “We all have busy schedules as it is, but when you put that on top of it, it takes up a lot of your time.”

Post-title, Wright contacted Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, UConn’s Jim Calhoun, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, UCLA’s Jim Harrick and Villanova’s own Rollie Massimino looking for advice on what he was in store for and how to handle next season. This was a pre-emptive strike to avoid a National Championship hangover.

“Everyone I talked to mentioned in some way that there is a hangover no matter what you do,” Wright said. “It lingers into your next season and you have to deal with it.”

Wright, along with the rest of the staff, plans to monitor this phenomenon throughout the season and is hoping that the passing of the ring ceremony and the banner hanging at Hoops Mania this Friday and the Wells Fargo Center during their upcoming exhibition game will help cure the hangover and get the team focused on the here and now.

In regard to living in the past, Massimino will be in attendance this Friday for the hanging of the new matching 1985 and 2016 National Championship banners in the Pavilion.

“The guy’s got more energy than I do and he’s got 30 years on me,” Wright said. “It was a dream come true having him in Houston.”

Coming off a National Championship, Wright will be looking to finish off one of their best recruiting classes of the decade. Villanova’s current verbal recruits, four-stars Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels, are expected to be in attendance at Hoops Mania in addition to five-star Lonnie Walker, the staff’s top recruiting target.

“Coach Wright does a great job showing recruits how we are as a team, and as players when we see the recruits we show them how we are on and off the court,” sophomore guard Jalen Brunson said. “I think Villanova’s a really unique program and while Hoops Mania isn’t necessarily what we do all the time as a program, it shows recruits how passionate people are about Villanova basketball.”

Coming off of last season and the team’s summer stint in Spain, Brunson is confident in his ability to step in as point guard amidst the loss of Ryan Arcidiacono.

“Last year was me feeling out where my place was on the team, and I realized that I needed to take a bigger role,” Brunson said. “As soon as the season ended last year, I was ready to take the next step to become a better player, a better teammate and to use what Arch taught me about being a better leader. As a point guard now I’ve got to be more of a vocal leader getting everyone into position and being that coach on the court.”

In addition to dribbling, defense and shooting to name a few, Brunson practiced his new leadership role in Spain.

“I was ready to show the team that I am able to lead, especially among the older, more experienced guys,” Brunson said. 

Spain was a chance for team development just as much as an opportunity for individual improvement too.

“It was a good bonding time for us, and we really got to learn more things about each other and about our team that we know we can improve on,” Brunson said.

According to Brunson, the more experienced players try their best to help the new guys feel comfortable and confident on the court.

“Whenever they do something wrong, we get on them of course, but they come into practice open-minded and they’re willing to listen and learn,” he said.

This was especially clear at the Blue and White scrimmage hosted at the Pavilion on homecoming Saturday. When Darryl Reynolds wasn’t being a beast on the boards, he could be seen giving pointers to freshmen Dylan Painter and Tim Delaney.

“For people who’ve never been in [an NCAA game], the only way I can learn how to be in it is from someone with experience,” redshirt freshman Omari Spellman said. “He definitely makes the process easier for a lot of guys and is a great leader in that aspect.”

Spellman will sit out this season after the NCAA ruled him ineligible in September.

Wright is especially excited for the shooting ability of the less experienced guys on the team, such as Eric Paschall.

“He’s a real smart, coachable kid so the year off really helped him,” Wright said. “We learned a lesson with Dylan Ennis that year and how to handle those guys sitting out. We might’ve not done as great of a job with Dylan Ennis, but we did a great job with Mikal Bridges, and I can see the same thing happening for Eric.”

Along with Paschall, Donte DiVincenzo has not yet played in a Big East game due to his foot injury from last season.

“I feel great and ready to be back,” DiVincenzo said. “Ever since missing last year I feel like I grew a lot as a player and I’m ready to contribute however needed.”

According to DiVincenzo, there wasn’t a point last season that him or Paschall didn’t feel as a part of the team due to their lack of playing time.

“It’s just the beginning, it’s the first step of our journey and we’re just trying to get better every day to be the best team we can be by the end of the year,” he said.

Wright is also impressed with what he has seen so far with Painter and Delaney.

“Dylan’s a bull,” Wright said. “He’s a big strong kid and he doesn’t back down.”

With the increasing emphasis on three-point shooting in college basketball, programs are adjusting accordingly.

“Gradually everyone’s realizing the effect and the power of that shot. It’s not just because of the three points, but it’s how it extends defenses and opens up your driving lanes. My generation, the way we were taught to play defense does not work against good three-point shooting teams, so we’ve all had to adjust. Three-point shooting was never going to be Daniel [Ochefu]’s game, but one of the things we liked about Dylan and Tim are their ability to shoot the ball.”

Delaney, coming off of surgery on both of his hips and a year off of basketball, played as a five this summer against the pros in Spain, and refuses to be defined by limitations and holds back from nothing, according to Wright. 

“I am amazed right now about what this kid’s still able to do,” Wright said. “I think he’s going to help us this season, but I’m being conservative with him.”

And Omari Spellman is gone but not forgotten.

“It obviously isn’t fun not being able to play in competition, but it definitely is fun getting to play against one of the best teams in college basketball every day,” Spellman said. “I’m making the most of what I can learn this season.”