NEW YORK -- Four months ago, when Ryan Arcidiacono found out he was headed to Italy for training camp with the national team, he had no idea what he would learn in the weeks that would follow.
So, he spiked his hair. He packed his bags for Folgaria, Italy and headed across the Atlantic Ocean as a replacement for another Italian player. He was the only American-born athlete on the team. And he was expected to run it. But not in the way that he expected.
The Villanova way, passing along the perimeter and running three to four guards at a time, wasn't going to work against professional athletes from different countries. So coach Luca Dalmonte switched up his playing style. He nurtured what Wildcats coach Jay Wright had already started with during Arcidiacono's sophomore season. Dalmonte began building Arcidiacono into a "pure" point guard.
"Playing in Italy, I got to see their type of play and style. It was cool, but it was different for me," Arcidiacono said Wednesday during the Big East's annual Media Day at Madison Square Garden.
"I had to figure out how the coach wanted me to play with a shorter clock and be an actual point guard. Coach Wright always wants us to swing the ball and make the play, but I was the one coming up with the ball and I had to use the ball and [initiate the play]. Being able to play in China and against France and China was cool, their style of play is interesting too."
Arcidiacono and Wright met with Italian National coach Simone Pianigiani in April before making the trip in June. The coach spoke in length with the coaching staff and Arcidiacono's family who expressed great enthusiasm for an opportunity for their son overseas. That same emotion led to Villanova granting Arcidiacono a window to play during the summer in Italy. And he was also eligible because he had an Italian passport.
The junior guard played for "La Nazionale Spreimentale" - translated as "the National Experiment" which is a younger, Under-23 type of squad used by the Italian National team to find talent for future years. Arcidiacono said that going to Italy was something he "wanted to make a habit of" for each summer and the experience is something that he can tangibly bring to Villanova.
"Having the experience of running a team," Arcidiacono said. "Just to do it with another team, where I had to communicate with them and speak some Italian, and communicate with those guys on and off the court, so if I can do it there with [a language barrier], it's going to help me here."
And at Villanova, it's consistency that the guard stressed what the difference will be in his junior season. Not just of himself from the point guard position, but also from his teammates, a squad full of players who know what it's like to be a top-ranked team in the country and the best in their respective conference.
"We were pretty consistent last year except for a couple games," Arcidiacono said. "In each spot, we have a bunch of juniors and seniors. And then another starter who could be Dylan [Ennis] is a junior and we have a sophomore in Josh [Hart] who's had big time playing experience. Everyone's going to have to hold down their position. We are going to be built like a team."
When it was announced that Arcidiacono was named to the preseason Big East Second Team, he kept his composure. It was no longer about him, the big shots he hit his freshman year or in the Bahamas over Kansas last season, it was about Villanova. It had always been about Villanova.
So when Darrun Hilliard's name didn't get called as the conference's best player, it showed. Arcidiacono defended his roommate and his fellow captain. It was a sign of his leadership, the intangible qualities Wright raves about before and after practice sessions from October to March.
The 6-foot-3 kid from Langhorne, Pa, took a trip across the pond. And upon his return, came Villanova's starter for the next two years. More mature. More composed. But just as deadly as any guard in the Big East.
"That started last year. And we take responsibility for [his shooting tendencies]. As a freshman, we needed him to score. And people said sophomore year his numbers were down, but efficiency wise his numbers were up. The only thing that went down was his scoring. Three point shooting, assist-to-turnover ration was 3:1, they were all up."
"I see that coming into this year too, even taking it to another level when it comes to efficiency," Wright continued. "We still want Arch to score. We just want him to be very efficient and run the team. That's a lot. I know it's a lot...But he really became a better point guard."