Unlike the game days we're used to, the Pavillion was quiet and calm on Tuesday afternoon. The team managers were putting tape down for practice, and the invited media were patiently waiting for the reigning champions to make their appearance. Then the players walked in from the Davis Center, and everything changed. They were boisterous, happy, joking with one another, and generally lifting the mood of the entire arena, or at least the group of media in attendance.
That's the feel that this year's team has. It reflects the confident, fun loving personalities of its senior leaders. Unlike the more conservative, and soft spoken leadership of Ochefu and Arch last season, this years leaders are just as confident, but now have a national championship to back up their swagger. Don't get me wrong, they're still hungry for another one. But it's clear just from speaking to these young men that this isn't last year's team, on or off the court.
Tuesday's Media day consisted of a quick Q&A with the players and coaches before a 15 minute open practice for photos and videos. I got around to as many of the players as I could in the short time we had, but I was able to get a lot of great insight from head coach Jay Wright on dealing with the championship hangover, his approach with the young front court, and who he's pulling for in the world series. Here are all the notes and quotes from Villanova Media Day!
On recovering from his injury - "It was great to get healthy. The staff did a great job with me over the summer recovering from that crucial surgery. So I'm just getting back into the swing of things. I'm feeling way better than I did at any time last year. Just getting that explosiveness back and getting back with the guys, trying to help them win when I can."
On being a leader and upperclassman - "It comes with the territory. Coach expects a lot of the upper class, particularly the seniors, because you've been in the program the longest. He expects a lot of you, to take on the challenge to really be a leader, making sure we're playing the way we're supposed to be playing out there. Just making sure it's all about chemistry going with the guys, just the way you play off one another and trust one another, to keep those values in the system."
On improving his defense in practice - "Mostly I go against Jalen every day. Me and him go at it pretty heavy every day. Me and Jalen, I try to get up on Josh, or anybody that gets high priority at the guard. That helps me out in the games because we have a lot of guys who can really score and play offensively. Jalen probably the most, just going at it with him, you become a better player."
On rebounding - "You just gotta be willing, it's just desire. You have to want to go get it. We got a lot of big guys that can really rebound, like Darryl, he's a great rebounder. Just the will to go get it and pursue the ball. You can't think about how much shorter you are than the guy next to you, you gotta just get in and give it all you got."
On how he's most improved this off-season - "Probably vocal leader. I try to be that type of guy. Even though I'm a sophomore, this is my third year, so I try to be a vocal leader. Just trying to get the guys going, that's something I've gotten better at since last year."
On biggest goal for this season - "Attention to detail. Towards the end [of last season] I got a little better, but in the beggining sometime I'd just go out there and play free. That was a good thing cause I was young and all that stuff, but getting older I'm doing those things while sticking to the core values. Staying smart and not being as wild and reckless, that's the main thing I'm working on now."
On who pushes him the hardest in practice - "Going against Donte DiVincenzo every day, always lining up against him, he's just athletic and moves real fast. The way he plays hard on defense. Just going against him, Josh Hart, Eric, and Kris Jenkins, those are the hardest people right there."
On finally getting on the court - "It feels great. Sitting out last year wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, it went by a lot quicker. But it feels good to be actually playing again."
On mentoring Omari Spellman - "As soon as we heard the news I shot him a text and told him it's going to be quicker than you think. It gives you a chance to work on yourself and learn all our concepts before playing on the court. O's a great kid. He learns well, he listens. I just told him to take it day by day."
On playing the 5 in 'small ball' - "It feels great, only because we have such unselfish players. Everybody, as long as we play defense and rebound together, it'll be alright. But playing the 5, it would be good. I think it would help me out a lot."
On who pushes him in practice - "There's a lot of players who do, every day there's different people. I like going against Mikal, Kris is great to go against, Josh is great to go against. Omari's actually great to go against because he's such a skilled big man. Darryl's great on the glass, so every day it's a different challenge. Even Dante, Phil, anybody's a great match-up."
On where he's most improved - "My defense. I've worked on my defense all year last year, and I feel like it's improved a lot since then. Defensive rebound is very important for this team, so it was great last year to learn our defensive concepts and understanding where to be at the right time."
On playing in Spain - "Spain was definitely really helpful in my short development here. With Omari and Darryl both being out, me and Tim were the only big guys there. We both got a lot of chances to play and find out niche. We got used to the team, the speed of the game, and the concepts that we all go by."
On Reynolds leadership - "He's been really helpful for Omari and I. Just telling us, on the court and off the court, just telling us different situations in life that either we just experienced or we're going to experience. He's been really helpful, and like in practice I have to go against him every day. He's helped me adjust to the physicality of the game. Boxing him out, I'll tell you, it's hard. I have to keep getting better at that, and once I do it'll be a lot better for my game and my development.
On where he's most improved - "Just overall footwork, defensive footwork. Over the summer I got here and it wasn't that great. In the fall it's getting a little bit better, little by little. And that's a big thing that they like here. Daniel was able to guard out on the perimeter, and Darryl can too. That's what they're trying to get Omari and I to do too. Between the help of coach Shackleton and the strength program and all the footwork stuff we're doing, I think it's improving little by little.
On his recovery - "I'm feeling great. It all went smoothly, not too many hick-ups, so I'm all good now. All good, 100% perfect."
On how he fits into the offense - "It depends on what our personnel is during practice and who I'm playing with. So if I have to play the 5, no problem filling that role. If I'm gonna play the 4, I can do that too. So it's really wherever the team needs me.
On who's challenging him in practice - "I think Darryl and Kris, we all switch on defense and we end up playing everyone at some point during practice. That's always a challenge keeping everyone in front of me, or at least trying to. I'm getting better at it.
On where he's improved the most - "Definitely my defense, 100%. Now I have to go play on the perimeter, so I had to really step that up. And now I've got two new hips, so it's a little easier."
On what he's looking forward to this season - "Honestly, it's going to be really fun to see how good we can be as a team. Just playing together, and as we continue to get better and gel more, to see how good we can be."
On his red-shirt season - "Even though I may not be able to play this year in competition, I still get to play in practice against the national champions. So every day I'm playing against what was the best team in the country. I just look at it like it's an opportunity to get better, it's an opportunity to learn. There's still things I have to get better at. Forever in basketball, there's always an opportunity for you to get better. So I'm just looking at this as one big opportunity to get better."
On advice from Eric Paschall - "Me and Eric talk a lot, we're really good friends. He just told me he's been through the same thing and he knows how I feel. You just got to stay around people you care about. You just gotta try to keep finding the positives. If you always look for the negative, it's too easy to find. It's not so easy to find the positives, so you always have to be looking for them."
On his goal for this season - "I want to improve defending on the perimeter, toughness, rebounding, and trying to lose weight. Since I've been here I've actually lost 37 pounds, which is kind of insane. Just trying to get better every day, that's the biggest goal. Wherever I can get better, do it. I trust these coaches whole-heartedly. So if you tell me that taking a piece of skin off my pinky is going to help me shoot better, I'll do it. It's just trusting them and trusting the process.
On role players like Reynolds and Bridges - "What you label those guys, as role players, that's probably what most people in athletics would call those guys. But in our program, we chart the things that you do that help your team win. The two guys you mentioned might be two of the most valuable guys on this team in Mikal and Darryl. We call that attitude, and they win that attitude club every day in practice almost. They did it a lot last year. They do a lot of things that make us win, they're really valuable to us."
On challenges without Omari - "[Darryl Reynolds] will be a starter, and I think he's ready for that. I think part of our challenge is Tim Delaney and Dylan Painter. Which one of them, if not both of them, can step up and give us the depth that Darryl gave us last year up front when we need size. Down the stretch in big games against big time teams you need that size. So we've got to develop Tim and Dylan and see how they do with that. And see how Eric Paschall can do. Can he play bigger. So we definitely have our challenges."
"Dylan and Timmy have great opportunity here, and Eric. Eric's tough enough if we have to play small. We played him at some 5 because I didn't want to rush Timmy this summer and Darryl didn't make the trip. So we played him at the 5 against some pros, and he looked pretty good. So we could use him there some."
On how it feels to have Kris and Josh back - "Real good! When you go into a year with veterans like Kris and Josh that have played in so many big games and had so much success, as a coach it gives you a great feeling of security. Now it's a challenge for them to still remain humble and hungry, and both of them think about being leaders, think about everyone else and not themselves their senior year. It's a hard thing to do. Ryan and Daniel did a great job of that last year. JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard did a great job. Tony Chennault, James Bell did a great job. It's hard, but that's their challenge this year.
On getting recognized in public - "One of the great things about the Villanova job is we get a lot of great media attention being in Philadelphia, it's a great college basketball town. But, you always could go anywhere you want and there's so many other big things happening in Philly. For right now it's a little different, but I have a feeling as this season wears on it'll settle down. It's worse for Kris Jenkins, I've seen that. I've been with him and seen him, Josh Hart too. It's interesting, I'll tell you that."
On how he measures success now - "It's really simple. If we can come out every night and play Villanova basketball for each other for 40 minutes. If we do that, we're successful. The last coupe year's we were doing it, but we just got beat in some games. But we were still proud of our accomplishments. You judge yourself based on your own team's core values, but you know that you get judged on the outside differently and you have to accept that."
On advice from others on handling the championship - "After the Carolina game, a couple of weeks after, I talked to a number of guys. Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, Jim Harrick, Coach Massimino, a lot of guys, just to get some information. What are we in store for? What's coming at us? How did you handle the next season? I got a lot of great advice. Some of it fits our program, some of it doesn't, but I'm glad I talked to those guys.
Everybody mentioned in some way that there's a hangover, no matter what you do. Maybe you can get over it, maybe you can't. Everyone of them, whether they used that term or not, addressed the fact that it lingers into your next season and you have to deal with it. That's why we address it and talk bout it all the time. We have a lot of challenges this year within our team, but that's going to be one of our challenges outside our team."
On the championship banners - "We're doing the banners at hoops mania and at the Wells Fargo center at the exhibition game. We're trying to get everything out before the season starts, so that when the season starts we're not doing rings, we're not doing banners. So we hope that can get us focused. I don't know where the banners are going. We're going to do a new '85 banner that matches the 2016. You don't want one that looks like that, 31 years old. We wanted a nicer one."
On Hoops Mania surprise guest - "We're working on Friday night. That's what happens in this business. You work on it until the last minute."
On Coach Massamino at Hoops Mania - "Coach Mass is coming in so we can unveil the banner. They're playing Drexel on Thursday and Penn on Friday. Still coaching, he's doing great. The guy's amazing.... The guy's got more energy and more passion than any guy that I've ever seen. He's got more than me, and he's 30 years older than me. He's amazing. He called me today to ask me to get video of a certain offense we run, and he wants to look at it before they play on Wednesday. He's amazing."
On if this is a deeper team - "It could be. The questions are going to be Dylan and Timmy Delaney up front. The questions are going to be can Dante and Eric progress through their first year like Mikal did, and Jalen. Mikal and Jalen were completely different players at the end of the year. Can we do that? That's the challenge of the season."
On the increased use of the 3-point shot in college - "I think coaches, we all adjust to new rules, in general, slower. If you remember when it came into college basketball, Rick Pitino went to it right away, but everybody else didn't. I think gradually everyone's realizing the effect of that, and the power of that shot. It's not just the three points, but it's how it extends defenses and it opens up your driving lanes. I think everybody gets that now, and I think the thing you're going to see next is people adjusting defensively. 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, so we'll probably do that slowly too."
On moving the 3-point line back - "I think it's perfect right where it is, I really do. But, I know there's a lot of support for getting it uniform with international basketball. I don't think it would have that much an effect, so if they did it, I wouldn't be upset."
On Villanova shooting around 40% of their shots from three - "That's good for us, I'm good with that. We were a little overly aggressive early in the season. We like to do it that way. We'd like them to be aggressive first, and then go from being aggressive to a little better decision making, rather than start tentative and become more aggressive. If you watch, we do that a lot, especially early in the season. So we'll probably do that a little bit this year. If you think about it, if we ended at 40%, as high as we were early in the season, we probably were lower than that at the end of the season... I think by the end of the season we probably got lower, but I'm ok with about 40%. 38-40% is good for us.
On bigs shooting the three - "That's one of the things we really like about Dylan and Tim. That was never going to be Daniel's game, but one of the things we like about Dylan and Tim is their ability to shoot the ball."
On Tim Delaney's recovery - "He had two hips, not replaced, but he had surgery on two hips. So I'm amazed right now at what this kid's able to do. I'm going to be patient with him. He had one series where he had a couple days where he had a little inflammation, but the kid's been held back from nothing. You know he didn't play basketball for a year, so he's coming back a little bit, but I think he's going to help us. But I'm being conservative with him. I don't want to get overly excited, but I am excited about not playing basketball for a year, two surgeries, and there's no limitations. None. I think he's batting more just not playing ball, his timing. But he can be helpful.
On the World Series - "I'm loving these two teams being in the World Series. I love the old school teams that haven't been in it for a while. I like the Cubs, because I'm a National League guy and I've respected the passion of those fans. I think that's what being a fan's all about. Their loyalty and their passion and love for the Cubs, I want them to win it. I want them to be rewarded."