On the heels of being named a finalist for National College Coach of the Year, Jay Wright met with the media following the Villanova Wildcats' open practice held on Thursday in Brooklyn.
JAY WRIGHT: We're thrilled to be back in the NCAA Tournament. We never take this for granted. We've enjoyed every part of this from the selection show to leaving campus and having everybody out there waiting for us to get on the bus. Very psyched to be in Brooklyn. Great venue. We've played here the last two years. Everyone here treats you so well, classy place, fun place to play. The crowd is close to the court. For a big arena, it's going to be exciting in here, playing in a sold-out Barclays center.
We've got a great opponent, a very good offensive team, Asheville. Nick McDevitt has done a fantastic job, to have two freshmen, Smith and Sutton, playing the way they are. And a couple of sophomores in Vannatta and Thomas. Sam Hughes is the only senior. They are a very good starter. It's the classic mid-major nightmare in the first round. That's what you get in the NCAA first round. I think we have great respect for them, and we're psyched to play them.
Q. You've spoken before about your affinity for playing in New York and playing at the Garden. You're obviously in New York, but you're not at the Garden. Does it feel differently when you're playing at Barclays as opposed to Madison Square Garden?
JAY WRIGHT: It is a little different. When you're at the Garden, it's like pure tradition. You feel like it's old school New York. When you're at the Barclays Center, it just feels like it's like hyped hip-hop New York. Everything's new and black and hyped. It's just different. I love both of them.
But for our fans, our strongest alumni base is the Metropolitan area. So when we're here, our fans love to be here. We're having major issues with tickets because the NCAA cut back tickets this year, and this place is sold out. We've got a lot of people that normally come when we're in New York that can't get in.
Q. So you've talked about it and you've called it the elephant in the room, the early exits the last few years. How do you address it, if you do with your team, and how do you handle being asked about it a lot? And maybe it's on your mind but then not letting it affect the games?
JAY WRIGHT: It's been a big part of our season. It's been a big part of our program. As soon as we lost to NC State last year, it became a big issue, even in the off-season. And when we started this season, it was the first thing everybody talked about. So we had to talk to the team about it and just say, okay, this is just something we're going to have to deal with.
As soon as we lost the game against NC State, we said, hey, we've got to own this. We lost the game. We didn't realize we'd be talking about it this much. So during the season, everything that we did, there was always an afterthought, whether we lost a game, someone would say, well, it doesn't matter because all you have to do is get to the second weekend anyway. If we won the Big East Championship, people say, well, that doesn't matter. You've got to get to the second weekend.
So we spent a lot of time trying to teach our guys that this season does matter to you. You're college basketball players. You only get to do this four times. We really talked about that a lot. And I'm really proud of how our guys handled it, to win a Big East regular season championship, win 29 games, with everyone still saying this doesn't matter. I was really proud of them.
Now back to that point, if we didn't have a good season, we wouldn't even be in the NCAA Tournament. So we wouldn't have a chance to get past the first weekend. So now we're finally at the point where we can do something about it. Now to our guys, it's, okay, this is everything everyone has been talking about, we've got to go do it. We realize, if we don't do it, it's going to be a major issue again, but we've dealt with that. So we're at the point where we can enjoy this and just concentrate on one game at a time and really concentrate on Asheville.
JAY WRIGHT: We practiced today at St. Francis College. Today was his first full look, 100 percent practice. So I can say he's 100 percent good to go, no issues. He'll start. He'll play like normal. And that was our goal was try to get him to the Big East Tournament, not make that ankle any worse. Shut him down for a couple days. We shut him down Sunday, Monday, even Tuesday, we shut him down Tuesday. So today he looked really good.
Q. What do you feel like the legacy is for your current seniors? How important is this potential run to what that legacy could be?
JAY WRIGHT: Interesting. Within the Villanova family, their legacy is going to be the winningest class in Villanova history, and I think Daniel Ochefu will go down as one of the great big men in Villanova history. I think Ryan Arcidiacono will also go down as one of the great guards in Villanova history.
But as a class -- and they have three walk-ons with them -- Henry Lowe, Kevin Rafferty, and Pat Farrell -- who are really important to the Villanova people. Whatever they do in this tournament, they're going to go down as one of the old time special classes, winningest.
Now, nationally, we realize their legacy is going to be based on what they do in the NCAA Tournament. It's just what college basketball is. We obviously care much more about our legacy within our program, but we understand the national legacy is important, and I think that's how it's going to play out.
Q. Looking at Asheville, and in particular, their three-point defense, what makes their defense behind the arc so effective?
JAY WRIGHT: I wish I could -- we don't have time today, but as coaches, I wish we could sit down and talk about what they're doing. It's awesome. Nick McDevitt has done a great job. He's on to something really good there. They're like the old Louisville teams with Denny Crum, where everybody is 6'5", 6'6", and everybody can switch everything.
If you get your five man -- if they get their five man on your point guard, he can guard them, and he can get out. So there's nobody on the floor that they can't guard. So whatever three-point shooter gets open, every guy on their team can guard him. And they do a great job of it. That's what Denny Crum's team used to do with all those 6'6" guys. They switched everything. But the three-point shot wasn't as impactful then. Now it is, and they're using that same size to take away your three. It's smart. They do it really well. And it's easier said than done. You've got to teach your guys how to do it, but they do it well.
Q. Following up on that sort of matchup theme, it's great that Daniel's healthy, and I'm sure you're happy to have him 100 percent, but can you envision this game playing out in such a way that you elect to go smaller in order to chase them around?
JAY WRIGHT: That is what's funny, Bob. You say we've got to get Daniel back, we do, but now we get UNC Asheville in the first game. They don't care what size you are. They're going to post -- they post up. They play Georgetown. They play Tennessee. They post up Georgetown's 7-foot center with Hughes at 6'5" -- 6'4", 6'5", and they do it well. So there's definitely a chance.
One of the things we're happy about is that we can play, when we saw that matchup, wow, we can struggle being big. It can be an advantage being big. But we also might have to play small sometimes.
Q. Jay, obviously, there's a lot of perks that are attached to being a college basketball coach, especially in an elite program. Does it take some getting used to despite all of that, that you can win 27, 28, 29 games and still have people grumbling about what you didn't do? Is that -- in most walks of life, you have that little success, people understand that you've succeeded. But it seems like a different thing you have to get used to if you're in the job you're in.
JAY WRIGHT: I think you started it perfectly. We get a lot of perks being in our position. We get a lot of praise. And we try to teach our players the same thing. If I take all those perks and I take that praise in the position we're in, then you've got to take the hits. It's just part of the job. Life's a series of tradeoffs, and we tell our players the same thing. When we play in front of 20,000 at the Wells Fargo Center, we win the Big East Championship and everybody's going crazy and all the media's around us, we don't turn that away.
So when we get beat in the NCAA Tournament and they're criticizing us, we've got to accept that. I think that's part of life. It's part of our jobs. It's just not -- you can't have it one way. Our Philadelphia media has been very fair about it. They bring it up, but they're not lying. It's the truth. And I want our guys to -- it's a great learning experience for our guys. I wish we could teach it to them another way than losing in the NCAA Tournament, but they're learning that you have to accept the circumstances of being in the limelight and getting praise, and you have to take the hits with that.
Q. Jay, Fran Dunphy has his own issues with the NCAA Tournament and his record. You just mentioned yours. Is the NCAA Tournament success or failure the best measure by which to judge a coach? Is it indicative of what a college coach is or isn't?
JAY WRIGHT: I think that nationally it's the only fair way to do it. I think it's fair. Because nationally you don't get to -- people in Texas and California, they don't get to see us coach every day. What do they see? They see you in the NCAA Tournament. What do you do? So that's your national perspective. I think that's fair.
In Philly, I think you bring up the greatest example. If you ask anybody in Philadelphia, they'd say Fran Dunphy is one of the best college basketball coaches in the country, based on what they see him do every day. It's just reality, and I do think it's fair.
Q. Just jumping off of that, in terms of Coach Dunphy, I'm curious, as someone who's been part of this Philadelphia scene as well for a long time, what, if any, stories stick out when you think about what Coach Dunphy has done? And just the other part of that, you guys were both recruiting Ryan. Three of their top four players are from Philly. There's grumbling in New York about the decline of the New York City talent, but it seems like Philly sort of endures. I'm wondering why you think that is.
JAY WRIGHT: The first question about Fran is what amazes me about Fran is that, when he was at LaSalle, LaSalle basketball was at the top of Philly. When he went to Penn, he had Penn basketball at the top of Philly and nationally a great program, as well as LaSalle, when he was an assistant at LaSalle, and when he played at LaSalle. And then he went to Temple, and he's got that Temple program right back nationally, NCAA Tournament.
He's a guy that's a winner, and he gets it, and most importantly, he's respected by everybody. You don't see that many people that are successful and respected by everyone, and it's a rare combination.
To answer your question about Philly basketball, we have been very fortunate in Philadelphia that we have a lot of different leagues. We have the public league. We have the catholic league. We have the interact league. We have the friends league. We have the suburban -- we have a lot of different leagues that all produce players. The Philly teams have gotten a lot of them, but there's a lot of people out of the area that got great players. Emile Jefferson at Duke. Kansas has had plenty -- everybody. That part I don't like as much. I like when they stay and go to the local schools, and I think that's important for all of us in Philly to keep those guys home.
Q. Just wondering, how much has the tournament changed since you first coached in it 16 years ago? And how has your preparation for the tournament changed over that time?
JAY WRIGHT: Well, I was in the NCAA Tournament in the late '80s with Rollie Massimino as an assistant. Back then, it seemed like the Blue Bloods, you just knew. You had a 1-16, 2-15. Of the Blue Bloods were going to get their second round, Sweet 16. It was just a given back then. Like we were at Villanova, and we beat Kentucky in '88, and it was like a major upset. It was incredible. People were shocked.
Now, any of these teams, like you look at UNC Asheville, some years ago, Eddie Biedenbach was coaching them, and they played Syracuse and basically had the game -- Syracuse was a 1 seed. That was a 16. It wasn't that -- when you watched the game, it wasn't that surprising, you know. The parity, the emergence of the 16, 15, 14 seeds, how good they are, and I don't think anybody would be shocked there was a 1-16 upset. They're not going to be shocked, like they would in the past.
Q. You talked about Fran Dunphy. When you had Fran McCaffery in, there's a common bond here, a thread of Philadelphia coaches. You talk about the great players. What's the thread? What's the common bond historically? Is it the Big Five? Is it just quality basketball? Quality people? Where so many good coaches come out of the community.
JAY WRIGHT: I think it's the Big Five because Fran, Fran, and myself, in the era that we all grew up, when we were kids watching coaches and watching basketball, Jack Ramsay, Rollie Massimino, Paul Westhead, all these guys, Jack McKinney, Chuck Daly, all these coaches in the Big Five to us, they were Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo. We didn't care -- honestly, at that time, John Wooden was winning National Championships. I didn't even know who the hell he was. Obviously, I've learned a lot. I've read a lot. But at that time, you looked at Jimmy Lynam and those. They were your idols, and they were great coaches, and they coached -- they never had -- rarely had the best players, maybe like John Wooden did. So you learned how to coach and take pride in coaching without the best players. Then when those guys got players, they were really good coaches.
I think we all came up that way, and I definitely think it was because of the Big Five.
Q. Just an offbeat question. In the coming weeks and months, there's the change to the NBA draft process, and so I was just wondering your thoughts on the change and how new players are going to be able to get more feedback before they make that decision. And also the flip side that there might be more roster uncertainty for some of the coaches.
JAY WRIGHT: I think that that is the first step in addressing the issue that college basketball is being affected by players leaving early and the NBA is being affected by players early. This one and done rule. It's lessening the quality of both. And this is the first time the NABC and the NBA worked together. So I think it's going to be really helpful where -- the problem with the one and donees is not the guys that go to the NBA that are the first round picks. It's not those guys. It's not DeMarcus Cousins. It's not LeBron. It's not those guys.
It's the 50, 60 guys that should be in college for four years and would be great players in college that wind up going overseas or playing in the D-League. To have the guys identified by the NBA and to go to this predraft camp is going to make decisions for these guys. It's going to really give them real information. And then once they go there, you're going to get even better information to make an informed decision.
A lot of these guys are getting bad information. They're making an informed decision with bad information. Now they're going to get good information, and I think you're going to see a lot better decisions, things looking better for the NBA, better for college. And then we can build on that and get closer to the baseball model down the road.
Transcript by ASAP Sports