Two-Time Champ Jay Wright And Villanova Looking For More After Humbling Army In Opener

Army v Villanova
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Following his team’s 43-point win Tuesday night Jay Wright said he was “humbled.”

That tells you all you need to know about the man who has turned Villanova into a basketball powerhouse that now gets mentioned in the same breath as Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.

The only difference is he’s the only one among that contingent who can boast of winning not one, but TWO national championships since 2010.  Not that you’ll ever hear the 58-year-old Wright boast, despite a resume that includes 571 wins between his seven years at Hofstra and 19 at ‘Nova. Nor will the six-time Big East Coach of the Year and two-time Naismith National Coach of the Year do anything but laugh when you suggest he might eventually be immortalized at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.

That attitude permeates the Main Line campus, where Villanova home games have become a truly big deal, especially since the Wildcats reopened their $65 million refurbished Finneran Pavilion at the start of last season.  It’s further illustrated by the words on the backs of their warm-up jerseys “Committed to Serving Those Who Have Served.”

Speaking of those who serves brings us to Tuesday’s opponent, the one Wright said he was honored to compete against.  Hoops-wise Army, which has had only three winning seasons in the last 40 years–long after a couple of guys you may have heard of named Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski played there–really didn’t belong on the same court as ‘Nova.

But that didn’t matter to Wright and his players. “It’s an honor to compete against those guys,” said Wright when the 97-54 blowout, where at one point Villanova went on a 33-3 first half tear, was mercifully over. “The U.S. Military Academy–I have so much respect for them and how hard they play.

“I’m humbled to play them.”

Before the game both sides met at center court to shake hands. Then they stood at attention for the National Anthem, sung by the same Naval petty officer who sang it the night ‘Nova knocked off Carolina to win it all in Houston in 2016. 

On that night Kris Jenkins buried a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the ultimate cap on a 35-5 season and hand Wright his first National championship and Nova its first since Rollie Massimino’s 1985 upstart Wildcats shocked Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. The same Kris Jenkins who was on hand for this occasion, along with former teammate Darryl Reynolds and various former Wildcats over the years.

The sold out crowd inside the Pavilion, many of whom anted up for those premium seats, ate it all up and didn’t seem to mind the fact the game itself wasn’t much of a contest.  That’s probably because they’ve gotten spoiled by all the wins that have piled up since the Bucks County–bred Wright took over the reins from Steve Lappas in 2001.

If you’re counting it’s now up to a school record 447. But whatever those teams accomplished during his tenure–and that’s quite a bit beside those two National titles–won’t help this year’s squad, which is probably the youngest Villanova team in memory.

In fact, 6-9 forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and 6-4 guard Justin Moore became the first time he’s started two freshman since Randy Foye and Allan Ray (another one on hand Tuesday) in 2002.

“I didn’t realize that,” said Wright, who’s likely spurned more lucrative offers from both college and the pros to remain at ‘Nova. “I knew we hadn’t done it in a long time.

“The difference now is everyone in the program knows what they’re doing. Back then nobody knew. But these two have a really high basketball I.Q.”

Robinson-Earl, who somehow got away from Bill Self territory in Overland, KS, dominated at both ends with 24 points and 13 rebounds and looks like a star in the making. Sophomore Saddiq Bey, who’s filled out to 216 lbs. and changed his number from #15 to his Mom’s old #41, was right behind with 22. Soph Cole Swider added a career-high 18.

With no seniors among the mainstays and Jr. guard Collin Gillespie the only returning double figure scorer from last year’s 26-10 team, it’s a bit surprising to see Villanova ranked No. 10 in the pre-season, the sixth straight year the Wildcats have made it in the polls. That’s a testament to the reputation Wright has built up, which was further enhanced when the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, coach of the U.S. National team, named him to be his assistant.

But Wright will be the last person to toot his own horn, just as the next time one of his players tells you how good he is will be the first time. Instead, year after year you’ll hear them say they just want to play “Villanova basketball,” trying to get better each day and let the results speak for themselves.

While those results–especially in recent years with those 2016 and 2018 championships–speak volumes, Wright will never dwell on them. He won’t even allow a 43-point romp to lull his team into overconfidence.

“Great teams play every possession for 40 minutes,” said Wright, as Villanova opened its 100th season in style. “We’re not ready to do that yet.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to take from this game. We still have a lot of room for improvement.”

That’s a scary proposition for future opponents, with a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State next on the docket. Following shortly afterwards are their annual Philadelphia Big Five wars–where they had reeled off 25 in a row and won six straight City Series titles before being upset by Penn last season–then a December date with Kansas. And that’s before the ‘Cats even begin defense of the Big East, which they’ve won five of the last six years.

Will it all end with confetti pouring down on them from the rafters in Atlanta’s Mercedes Dome next April? Probably not. But that won’t keep Jay Wright’s gang from playing “Villanova basketball” right until the final buzzer goes off, no matter when.

That’s what Army learned the hard way Tuesday night, a drubbing which couldn’t have pleased the Commander in Chief.

For a humbled Jay Wright, though, who knows harder days may lie ahead, at least it was a good way to start.



 









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Following his team’s 43-point win Tuesday night Jay Wright said he was “humbled.”

That tells you all you need to know about the man who has turned Villanova into a basketball powerhouse that now gets mentioned in the same breath as Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina.

The only difference is he’s the only one among that contingent who can boast of winning not one, but TWO national championships since 2010.  Not that you’ll ever hear the 58-year-old Wright boast, despite a resume that includes 571 wins between his seven years at Hofstra and 19 at ‘Nova. Nor will the six-time Big East Coach of the Year and two-time Naismith National Coach of the Year do anything but laugh when you suggest he might eventually be immortalized at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.

That attitude permeates the Main Line campus, where Villanova home games have become a truly big deal, especially since the Wildcats reopened their $65 million refurbished Finneran Pavilion at the start of last season.  It’s further illustrated by the words on the backs of their warm-up jerseys “Committed to Serving Those Who Have Served.”

Speaking of those who serves brings us to Tuesday’s opponent, the one Wright said he was honored to compete against.  Hoops-wise Army, which has had only three winning seasons in the last 40 years–long after a couple of guys you may have heard of named Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski played there–really didn’t belong on the same court as ‘Nova.

But that didn’t matter to Wright and his players. “It’s an honor to compete against those guys,” said Wright when the 97-54 blowout, where at one point Villanova went on a 33-3 first half tear, was mercifully over. “The U.S. Military Academy–I have so much respect for them and how hard they play.

“I’m humbled to play them.”

Before the game both sides met at center court to shake hands. Then they stood at attention for the National Anthem, sung by the same Naval petty officer who sang it the night ‘Nova knocked off Carolina to win it all in Houston in 2016. 

On that night Kris Jenkins buried a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the ultimate cap on a 35-5 season and hand Wright his first National championship and Nova its first since Rollie Massimino’s 1985 upstart Wildcats shocked Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. The same Kris Jenkins who was on hand for this occasion, along with former teammate Darryl Reynolds and various former Wildcats over the years.

The sold out crowd inside the Pavilion, many of whom anted up for those premium seats, ate it all up and didn’t seem to mind the fact the game itself wasn’t much of a contest.  That’s probably because they’ve gotten spoiled by all the wins that have piled up since the Bucks County–bred Wright took over the reins from Steve Lappas in 2001.

If you’re counting it’s now up to a school record 447. But whatever those teams accomplished during his tenure–and that’s quite a bit beside those two National titles–won’t help this year’s squad, which is probably the youngest Villanova team in memory.

In fact, 6-9 forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and 6-4 guard Justin Moore became the first time he’s started two freshman since Randy Foye and Allan Ray (another one on hand Tuesday) in 2002.

“I didn’t realize that,” said Wright, who’s likely spurned more lucrative offers from both college and the pros to remain at ‘Nova. “I knew we hadn’t done it in a long time.

“The difference now is everyone in the program knows what they’re doing. Back then nobody knew. But these two have a really high basketball I.Q.”

Robinson-Earl, who somehow got away from Bill Self territory in Overland, KS, dominated at both ends with 24 points and 13 rebounds and looks like a star in the making. Sophomore Saddiq Bey, who’s filled out to 216 lbs. and changed his number from #15 to his Mom’s old #41, was right behind with 22. Soph Cole Swider added a career-high 18.

With no seniors among the mainstays and Jr. guard Collin Gillespie the only returning double figure scorer from last year’s 26-10 team, it’s a bit surprising to see Villanova ranked No. 10 in the pre-season, the sixth straight year the Wildcats have made it in the polls. That’s a testament to the reputation Wright has built up, which was further enhanced when the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, coach of the U.S. National team, named him to be his assistant.

But Wright will be the last person to toot his own horn, just as the next time one of his players tells you how good he is will be the first time. Instead, year after year you’ll hear them say they just want to play “Villanova basketball,” trying to get better each day and let the results speak for themselves.

While those results–especially in recent years with those 2016 and 2018 championships–speak volumes, Wright will never dwell on them. He won’t even allow a 43-point romp to lull his team into overconfidence.

“Great teams play every possession for 40 minutes,” said Wright, as Villanova opened its 100th season in style. “We’re not ready to do that yet.

“That’s one of the things we’re going to take from this game. We still have a lot of room for improvement.”

That’s a scary proposition for future opponents, with a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State next on the docket. Following shortly afterwards are their annual Philadelphia Big Five wars–where they had reeled off 25 in a row and won six straight City Series titles before being upset by Penn last season–then a December date with Kansas. And that’s before the ‘Cats even begin defense of the Big East, which they’ve won five of the last six years.

Will it all end with confetti pouring down on them from the rafters in Atlanta’s Mercedes Dome next April? Probably not. But that won’t keep Jay Wright’s gang from playing “Villanova basketball” right until the final buzzer goes off, no matter when.

That’s what Army learned the hard way Tuesday night, a drubbing which couldn’t have pleased the Commander in Chief.

For a humbled Jay Wright, though, who knows harder days may lie ahead, at least it was a good way to start.



 









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