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Final Four 2016: Villanova head coach Jay Wright meets the media

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following Villanova's closed door practice on Thursday at Houston NRG Stadium, head coach Jay Wright met with the media to talk about the upcoming game against Oklahoma and the Final Four experience.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by the head coach of the Villanova Wildcats, Jay Wright. We'll ask coach to kick things off with an opening statement, then we'll take questions.

COACH WRIGHT: I just walked in and the Philly press is killing me before I ever start, but we love those guys (laughter).

It's a thrill to be here in Houston. It's a thrill to be at the Final Four. We have already seen, in just one day here, the difference between '09 and this year, all the improvements that the NCAA has made to really making the student-athletes feel special. It's amazing what they've done. From the hotel, to the gifts they get, it's amazing.

We are fired up to play a great Oklahoma team. This is what college basketball's all about. You get to see how much you've improved over the season. We played an outstanding team. We've watched them get better on TV. We've gotten a lot better. We'll see how much improvement we've made.

We're just fired up about playing them in this great arena.

THE MODERATOR: We'll now begin with questions for Coach Wright.

Q. You mentioned the Oklahoma game previously. Earlier in the week you were talking about facing Buddy then, as well. Do you think that helps that he's not this mythological player taking over this NCAA tournament?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think that's a great point. Two things about that.

If you've just watched the NCAA tournament, a lot of times when you get to this point you've really followed the teams closely during the NCAA tournament. If you only followed Buddy Hield or Oklahoma, you'd just think this guy is Superman.

The other thing you would think is that the other guys aren't as good.

We played him. He scored 17. We know how good he is, but we've been on the floor with him. But we also know how good all the other guys are because the other guys hurt us in that game.

I think Buddy had 17 or 18 in that game. Cousins was incredible, Woodard, Lattin played well, Spangler. Our guys know. I think our guys have a different perspective on this Oklahoma team than maybe the national fan base that just watched Buddy put up big numbers.

Q. How important is it to you that the kids now, that 1985 resonates with them? How much does it resonate?
COACH WRIGHT:
I'm not sure I know the answer to that. The '85 team is around all the time. Coach Massimino is around all the time. It's a big part of Villanova, me.

I don't know. I don't know how much these guys are affected by that.

Our '09 team is around, and I think our guys have a great respect for the '09 team.

The '85 team to our guys is almost magical. It's almost a fairytale that I don't know if they identify with. Whereas the '09 team, they've played against those guys. I think they feel a connection more to those guys.

Q. We all know what a great leader Arch has been. But talk about Daniel's development as a leader, particularly this year.
COACH WRIGHT:
Daniel's really unique as a big guy because he has incredible basketball intelligence, a really high IQ. He looks at the game really like a point guard.

When we prepare for games and we do scouting reports, he's the guy that's the most dialed in. And Arch is really dialed in, Daniel is even more. He demands it of everybody else on the team.

I'm sure people see everything now. In our last game against Kansas, he got on Phil Booth in the huddle, he and I both did, about a defensive assignment that we both thought he missed. We were both getting on Phil Booth, Daniel before me. Then we both had to apologize when we watched the film because Phil Booth was right and we were wrong.

That's where Daniel's leadership really comes in, is that his game preparation and basketball IQ is above anybody's on our team. He has the respect because he's the big guy that he demands it of everybody else.

Q. I was talking to Arch, took a lot of threes in the last game against Oklahoma, but they weren't smart threes. How much better is this team at recognizing the difference from then to now, what a good shot is and what isn't?
COACH WRIGHT:
Our defensive execution, our three-point shot selection, has been our two greatest areas of improvement. I do think in the Kansas game, Arch and Josh took a couple tough ones, ill-advised.

Arch has the tendency, when he's feeling it, and we love the confidence, to just let it fly. We like that, but we want him to be really smart about it.

It's interesting that even as a senior, in the 38th game of his career, you can still get on him about it and he respects it. We know it's going to be important in this game.

So I think we can still get better in that area.

Q. Sometimes a bigger name freshman comes in and wants to be the marquee guy, sometimes there's a senior who feels like he has deserved his way. How rare is it or beneficial is it to have guys like Brunson and Arch who can work together like that? Also on Brunson, maybe where has he improved this season?
COACH WRIGHT:
The Jalen Brunson, Ryan Arcidiacono relationship is really important to our team. A lot of people said to us early in the year, What are you going to do with those two? They didn't understand behind the scenes in the recruitment of Jalen, Ryan was the greatest figure. Jalen, on his visit, we had a hotel room for him, but he stayed in Arch's room with Arch. Those two really hit it off.

They're very, very similar people, similar families, similar fathers, even though Joe Arch doesn't get that crazy, you know, former player stigma that Rick gets. But Joe is similar. I think that creates a bond between the two of them.

Early in the year when Arch came to me and just said out of the blue, Hey, I'll play off of the ball, let Jalen play the point. I think it's something those two must have talked about.

Jalen's ability to come in as a big-time player, hear all the hype, win the MVP of the pre-season NIT, then learn through the year that his value to the team is not being the MVP. His value to the team is fitting in.

It's hard for a McDonald's All-American to do that. I think that's a credit to his parents, to his dad, who is really a basketball guy, his mom, who is very, very bright and humble.

Next year he's going to have to take over a lot more. This year he's got to fit in. He's done an amazing job of that. I think it's really a key to our run in this tournament, his ability to fit in and still be effective.

Q. When you guys got out on the court today, how much were you looking at the back drops with the way you shoot the three? How concerned are you about that?
COACH WRIGHT:
It's something we talk to our guys about. I think it's really set up well by the NCAA, where we got a closed practice in there today. We talked to our guys about you'll get that experience today. First time you go in there. You got to see it, you got to feel it. We said, Hey, if your shots aren't going in today, don't worry about it, you'll get used to it, don't let it affect you.

Tomorrow we get in here with probably 40,000 people, I remember in Detroit it was 35,000, 40,000. You get that experience. Then we get another shootaround Saturday.

I told the guys, By Saturday night, you'll be fine. I don't think it will be an issue.

Getting three days in here is really important. I just think it's smart that the NCAA gives us that closed practice today.

Q. Aside from Daniel's leadership, with all he's gone through this year with the concussion and the ankle, talk about where he's gotten to as a player? It's not always guards, guards, guards anymore. Against Kansas, he was really huge.
COACH WRIGHT:
Middle of January, he was playing great. I mean, he was a dominant player. Then on January 12th he got hurt in that Marquette game. He came back from that one, started playing well, then he got the flu, then he got a concussion. He was never the same, even through the Big East tournament.

Once we started the NCAA tournament, he's been healthy again. He's a force. I mean, he's an offensive force. He can score in there. There aren't a lot of guys anymore in the game that you can give the ball to in the post, a defender can stand behind him, and he can make moves to score and make free throws. It's a real valuable part of our offense.

Defensively he's our leader. He's the guy making all the communication out there. He's the guy that can guard multiple positions. He's a hell of a player, man. He is a very talented, underrated player, I believe.

Q. John Shackleton, can you tell me what you asked of him since he showed up?
COACH WRIGHT:
He's a great story. We lost Lon Record, our long time strength coach, I thought he was the best in college basketball. So did everybody else. Billy Donovan tried to hire him. When John Groce got the job at Illinois, he hired him. They just paid him a lot of money. We just couldn't afford it.

I told him, You can't pass this up for your family.

So we started interviewing guys from all over the country. John Shackleton was the Olympic sports coach. We didn't have a strength coach in the summer, which is really important. He volunteered. I said to him, Look, I'm not hiring you for this job, I'm not hiring an Olympic sports guy, I want a basketball guy. Do you still want to do it? You're not going to get paid.

He said, Hey, I'd love the chance to work with your team.

We brought all these top guys in from all over the country. I'm watching him working with our team. At the end I said, This guy took the job for free. This guy has no expectations. I'm watching what he does. He's a superstar.

I just brought him in, I said, Look, I need you to learn basketball, I need you to learn what we do. I know you know what you're doing. I think he has developed now into the best in college basketball. I truly believe it.

He's our nutritionist. He picks every meal we eat. He monitors heart rates, body fat, weight, our rehab, our flush days. He is incredible. I think he's one of the most valuable guys on our staff.

Q. One question about your shooting philosophy, the whole line about shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets, and how you control what's a good shot and what is a free shot. Secondly, Isaiah Cousins, he's a Mount Vernon kid. Did you know anything about him?
COACH WRIGHT:
I'll start with the last one because it always hurts me with New York kids. I kind of knew about him. Coach Cimmino is a good friend of mine. When he lit us up in Hawaii, I just felt bad. First thing I said to our assistants, How did we not know about him? They reminded me that we did know about him, we just kind of passed.

Sometimes you make those mistakes, evaluations, because he's a hell of a player, a New York kid, from a great program.

Then our three-point shooting philosophy, you know, it is shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets. We recruit guys that are good shooters. We want them to come in and shoot with confidence first. Maybe they'll be a little reckless.

I think this team was reckless when we played in Oklahoma. But I'd rather them start from a point of confidence and aggressiveness, then try to refine them, rather than start them inhibited and tentative, then try to build them up. Just the way we've done it.

I think you remember Scottie Reynolds was wild when he first came in. I think he developed into a really intelligent player.

It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it hurts us. But I want guys, especially shooters, to have a free mind, free will, and have fun playing.

Q. Aside from your couple of hour practices, maybe a team meeting or two, maybe mass, how do you keep these guys focused? What is the biggest challenge over these next couple of days?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think what we learned the last time we were at the Final Four was that is the biggest challenge. This time of the year, basketball-wise, you're playing your 39th game, the guys know what they're doing. Motivationally, these guys are so fired up, they want to win.

It's trying to keep them focused on basketball. Keep them focused on being humble. Keep them focused on reality. A lot of what goes on here is not reality. It's great. You spend two-thirds of your day talking about yourself. We teach these guys all the time, Life is not about you, it's what you do for others. We talk about it all the time. Then we come here and all you do is talk about yourself.

We try to take as much time to counter the time we talk about ourselves, take all the praise, we try to take as much time meeting as a team, eating together as a team, spending time as a team, and learning to get back to humility and hungry.

We use the term 'be hungry and humble'. I think it's a great challenge when you're at the Final Four.

Q. In this tournament, Buddy Hield seems to have expanded his range. Is that something you have noticed? When he's able to make shots, how does that distort a defense even more than regular three-point shooting?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, extending his range, have been two areas where the best player in college basketball has actually gotten better, which is incredible.

It's hard when you're that good to get better. That range distorts everything. They've given him the ball in the shot clocks. It not only extends your defense where it actually gives him a chance to get by you and still get a three.

If you're playing around the line, you get up on a guy, you press him, he goes by you, at least you're forcing him into two. He's taking the ball so deep, he's making some of them. If you get up on him, he can go by you and still pull up for a three. I don't know if that's part of his plan, but it's genius if it is.

That three also creates longer rebounds than a normal three. You just don't play against it. You don't practice against it. It distorts everything.

Q. These two teams are so good offensively, we often overlook the defense. Talk about defensively both clubs.
COACH WRIGHT:
Yeah, we talk to our team about that. You know, the last two games against Texas A&M and Oregon, if you really look at it, those games were over in the first half. They were over because Oregon and Texas A&M couldn't score. They're an outstanding defensive team.

It's funny about playing a team previously. When we played them the first time, we didn't realize how good all the guys were offensively. What we recognized was how great that team was defensively. Going into the game, that's what we were thinking about, not as much the threes. Probably sounds stupid now, but we just didn't see them that much the year before, and they didn't play really meaningful games before that.

But we did notice the defense, how everybody could get out in the perimeter and guard, Spangler could get out in the perimeter and guard. Even Lattin was so mobile.

As much as their three-point shooting, their defense has carried them, especially in this tournament.

Q. What is the significance to you of being the first new Big East school to make it this far in the tournament, especially in a year when an old Big East school made it from a different conference?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think it's really important for our conference that teams made it. In my pool, my family pool, which we do, just in the family, everybody has to pick Villanova all the way through in one bracket. I had Xavier in my other bracket. I just thought they were good enough, and they are. Just like Kansas is good enough to win this whole thing, just matchups in one game, you know.

But I think it's important because that's what made the old Big East. The year when St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown all got to Lexington, they were new. It kind of woke everybody up.

I think we have other teams in our conference this year that were good enough. I think Providence was good enough. Xavier was good enough. I think Seton Hall was good enough to get here. Butler was good enough to get here. But you got to do it.

We have to prove ourselves, not because we're not a good league, but just because we're new. We're the new league. It's important that we do this, our league does this, and we continue to do this, for our league as much as for our school.

Q. Since you came back to Nova, you have accented the idea of Villanova basketball. You look at Lon Kruger's career, he's won at a lot of different places. Do you think there's something to be said for a certain kind of coach being at his best in a particular program versus another kind of coach who can take what he does and go to different places and succeed at those places?
COACH WRIGHT:
Yeah, I hope I answer this correctly. I think certain schools fit certain coaches. Not enough time for me to go into it. But there's so many aspects of Villanova that allow us to coach the way we coach. It probably wouldn't work other places. It's a perfect fit. It's one of the reasons that we've not left. We figured that out.

When you're a guy like Lon Kruger, Larry Brown, you can take what you do, put that into any culture, that's genius. I mean, that's incredible, it really is. He's taken five schools to the NCAA tournament, right? He's taken three now to the Final Four, right?

I know we couldn't do that. I know that. You got to know what you are, who you are. We could not do that. It wouldn't work at certain places the way we do it.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank Coach Wright for joining us here in the main interview room.

COACH WRIGHT: Thanks, guys.

Transcript provided by ASAP Sports