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Final Four 2016: Pre-Championship Press Conference

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of Monday's National Championship between the Villanova Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels, Jay Wright and members of the squad met with the press on Sunday.

THE MODERATOR: Villanova has arrived in the main interview room.

We'll ask Coach Wright to begin with an opening statement, then we'll have questions.

COACH WRIGHT: We are I think rested now and ready to start our next step here in preparing for North Carolina.

We got past last night. I think we all talked about that enough, I hope.

Just simply one of those nights. I think our guys feel that way. We've been around enough basketball that we got to put that behind us, not expect to play that way. We know we're going to play a really tough team that's probably playing the best basketball in the country right now.

We're going to leave right here and go in here and practice and get prepared for Carolina.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.

Q. Jay, when you were asked at the start of the season what your goals for this season was, your only answer was, We only want to be playing the best basketball we can be by the end of the season. In years when your season ends prematurely, do you feel it's that way? Now that you're in the very last game in college basketball, is this the best you feel about that goal that you stated at the start of the year?
COACH WRIGHT:
This is probably personal between you and me because you've been covering us for 15 years. I do say that every year. We believe that every year.

Some years, the year we lost to NC State, I thought we were playing our best. At the end of the year we just ran into a hot team and didn't make shots.

But I do think that this team has taken advantage of the opportunity to continue to play games and has gotten better, even going into the Oklahoma game. I thought we had our best week of practice in terms of commitment to detail.

We're going to try this one more time here right after this and see if we can spend an hour and a half in there and get a little bit better. In that sense, it's the best team we've ever had in terms of continuing to get better. I thought our '09 Final Four team did that. I think this team is doing the same.

Q. Jay, not all coaches in this era stay at places as long as you've stayed at Villanova. Why? Also, have you ever been tempted to leave?
COACH WRIGHT:
I have been tempted a couple of times. How close I was to going, I couldn't say. I mean, I really don't remember now.

But one thing you just realize the longer you're in this, it's not just you. I think someone asked me the other day, Lon Kruger has taken five different schools to the NCAA tournament. I don't think the way we do it would fit at other schools. So we're very happy. We love the school. We love living there.

I think our coaching style fits Villanova's culture. So to quote great Jimmy Valvano said, Don't mess with happy. That's kind of the way we look at it.

Q. At what point does coaching switch to strategy? In other words, when do you start teaching the guys to think? Or is coaching a strategy, the exact same thing, there is no demarcation?
COACH WRIGHT:
What is your thought on that?

JALEN BRUNSON: Wow. I think it really starts with us playing as a team. Coach does a great job of putting us in the most difficult situations in practice. I mean, when we prepare for situations like that, it makes playing games like we played yesterday a lot easier.

COACH WRIGHT: I'd be interested in your thoughts. What's the difference between coaching and strategy? Where do they mesh? Daniel, I know what you think, because you're smart. I want to hear K.J. He's always got an interesting perspective.

KRIS JENKINS: Well, I think they go hand-in-hand. I think the coaches come up with a strategy, then it's up to the players to go out there and execute it.

COACH WRIGHT: I like that.

I think these guys say it correctly. In our program, we have a strategy that we try to prepare you in practice for the most difficult situations. Practices are really hard. We want the games to be easier.

Jalen just said it. We want the players to be able to have the freedom in a game to make their own decisions and trust their decisions because they've had kind of the screws put to them in practice. And they've paid the price for poor decisions in practice, but they're not going to in a game.

I hope that answers your question.

Q. Since the Big East folded and reemerged, people have been trying to figure out where to fit Villanova as a program. This game tomorrow, does it present an opportunity to define Villanova as a national program, a 'defining moment', if you will?
COACH WRIGHT:
I hope so. This is a time in college athletics where all the conferences are trying to see where they fit. The Big East isn't the same, but the ACC's not the same either. It's not the old Tobacco Road nine-team conference. It's completely different.

We're all trying to find our place right now. I mean, even look at some of the teams that are in the PAC-12, you know, are almost in the Midwest. It's just different.

We're finding our place. The new Big East, we're not trying to say we're the best conference in the country, but we are trying to say there are these football conferences, but during basketball season, we are a basketball conference, and let's do our best to fit in.

Q. Coach has been saying you guys have been improving throughout the year. I have no doubt that's true. At the same time, with a couple of exceptions, you guys are veterans. Could you point to any particular moments in the season, even one of the losses, that was a real learning moment, where it woke you up or identified a weakness, something you improved and built off of?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO:
You can always learn from a loss. But I think what we try to do is even when we win games, did we really win that game playing the type of basketball we want to play, and can we look each other in the eye in the locker room and say we played Villanova basketball for 40 minutes.

Sometimes you just go out there and make shots and beat teams on the offensive end. We really try to pride ourselves on rebounding and defending and letting everything else take care of itself.

DANIEL OCHEFU: There's one point in the season when we needed to start getting better was the Seton Hall game. A lot mistakes happened in that game down the stretch and we started that game off terribly.

We've been talking in the huddles, even when we have big leads, Remember what happened in this game, that game. Using those situations make us even better.

Q. Jay, it's kind of ironic you get to this game and you're matched up against the team that kicked you out of the Wells Fargo Center. Have you mentioned that to the guys? It looks like a tough matchup for both sides, things the other guys do well and don't do well. How do you see that?
COACH WRIGHT:
To answer your first question, these guys never cared about seeding or anything like that. They're a very mature group. We never talk about that.

When I would talk to the media, I would answer the questions. But we would have loved to have been in Philly. We were much more concerned about how we were playing basketball.

The matchups are unique. We are different teams. It's going to be a battle of wills because they do some things that we don't. We have perimeter play that's different, a lot different than theirs. Obviously we're going to have to deal with their size, their length, their rebounding, their inside game.

This is going to be a hell of a game. This is going to be a good game.

Q. You mentioned earlier the realignment, how it's affected conferences. How important is it with what you've done in Villanova, building this program, staying humble with the program, coaching, reaching the kids, especially when coaches now are making $5 million, $6 million a year? In many colleges, it's as much about the coaches as it is the program.
COACH WRIGHT:
I do think in college it is important that the program -- not that they're about the coaches, but the coaches are responsible for the culture. In pro sports, you know, it's not as much about the culture. It's the business of it, the marketing.

So in our culture at Villanova University as a whole, and in the program, being humble is very important. I think the success of this team really is based on the parents of these guys. These guys came in that way. So it was really easy for us to coach them.

If you're not humble, it's hard to be coached. If you can't be coached, it's hard to get better.

So the great tribute to our program and these guys is their parents. These are just really humble guys coming in, and that's why this team has fit our model the best.

Q. Jay, I think you shot about 42% as a team in the Big East title game. Shooting about 58% now, numbers we haven't seen in a long time. What has been the biggest key to getting back on track offensively, putting up some of these numbers we haven't seen in a long time?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think Daniel Ochefu was the big key. When we didn't have Daniel, we were kind of one-dimensional. He adds two things. Offensively he gives us the ability to go inside and get buckets when people are taking away our threes. Then when he gets it going, he gets people threes.

Last night in the first half, he got us some wide-open looks. On the defensive end, he allows other guys to be more aggressive to get some turnovers because he can protect the rim.

I mean, we're still pretty good. We've won a lot of games without him. But if you look at shooting percentage, he gets us easy baskets off of our defense. You see Josh Hart last night, Jalen gets steals. They know he's behind them.

Then offensively, he takes a lot of pressure off the perimeter guys, too.

So we've won, but maybe have not shot that high of a percentage.

Q. Jay, one of the themes during the season was there was parity, no one dominant team. You and North Carolina both have points that looked like you might be. Seems through the tournament you both have kind of emerged as maybe making a case to be considered a great team. Do you think that's correct? If so, why do you think that is? The tournament itself or both teams have come into their own?
COACH WRIGHT:
I think the season started really where there wasn't a dominant team. I remember everybody saying about Carolina, If they play to their best, when they play their best, they're great.

Well, it's hard to play your best. It's a team sport. You got to spend time together, you got to work together. I'm sure that game against Northern Iowa for them, really, just like Daniel mentioned our Seton Hall game, made them a better team.

I think you're seeing a season where there weren't dominant players, there weren't dominant teams. Then you're seeing a season where two teams just continued to get better and better and better and better. Now at the end, that's what you're seeing. The teams that continued to improve throughout the year and are playing the best right now.

But neither of us were dominant during the season. I think you do see the two that are playing the best right now.

Q. You always talk about the next game. The next game is going to be the last game for your two seniors. Have you thought about that or is that something you don't want to think about until whatever happens?
COACH WRIGHT:
I want to hear what they say. I always learn from this.

RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Yeah, I mean, as a senior in any program, this is always the last game, this is what you always want your last game to be. I think for myself, and I can speak for the walk-ons also, no matter what happens in this game, we really just want to go down playing basketball the way we've learned to love and grow and play these last three or four years.

I think for us, it would just be a beautiful game if we weren't making shots and we just defended, rebounded. Even if we ended up losing, we could still look each other in the eye and just know all the struggles we've been through. But we went down knowing what we know how to do best.

DANIEL OCHEFU: For all the seniors, we've been doing a good job of not making it about ourselves. Our final game is inevitable, it's on Monday, we all know that.

Throughout this tournament, even throughout the season, just focusing in on our teammates. We know it's our last season. We know our last game is on Monday. We haven't been thinking about it, talking about it. Coach Wright hasn't been bringing it up, none of the teammates have been bringing it's up.

I think just keeping the focus on the team. Taking everything away from ourselves. We all know it's our last game. We're just blessed that it's the championship game we're playing in.

COACH WRIGHT: What they said. They said it right. We just talk about the next game. They've been great at that all year because the seniors are great at it. Then after that, we'll talk about whether it was the last or what happened.

But we really will concentrate on the next game.

Q. The one fly in the ointment last night might have been in the second half, you had some rebounding troubles. Against Carolina, how critical is it to button that stuff up, especially with their length inside?
COACH WRIGHT:
It's going to be huge. I think they are third in the country in offensive field goal percentage, meaning of any team in the country, they get the most offensive rebounds off their missed shots.

It's not just length and athleticism, it's scheme. They have those guys around the basket. It's desire.

So we've got to scheme against it and we've got to have the toughness and aggressiveness to want to go get it like they do. They do a great job of getting after the ball.

I think it's going to be a huge part of the game.

Q. Ryan and Daniel, obviously the '85 championship took place before you guys were ever born, but you see all the mementos all around you. Could the two of you tell me how much a part of the Villanova culture it is, and does it ever inspire you in any way?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO:
I think Coach Wright does a great job of keeping all former players within the Villanova family. Last year was the 30th anniversary. All those guys are always around. Coach always has an open door to anyone who has played Villanova basketball because we think it's a family.

But we see the montages outside of our locker room and everything. They did a great job. Hopefully we can finish it out the way they did.

DANIEL OCHEFU: It's a big part of what we're doing because we play for those guys that played before us here. A lot of the guys on the national championship team, they were at the game yesterday.

Throughout the year, they're texting us, wishing us luck, giving us advice, stuff like that. It's always great to be able to represent those guys in the way we're doing it this year.

JALEN BRUNSON: I think it's a big part of Villanova tradition. It's something we're always reminded of. We see it every time you walk into the Villanova locker room. We're just honored to play for the ones that came before us.

Q. Jay, one of the things that has been all over social media and on the web is just the amount of different tweets and posts of teams around the conference, the Big East, coaches reaching out in support of Villanova. What have you taken away from the support that you've received from the rest of the teams?
COACH WRIGHT:
That's a great question because someone said to me today that I feel like we've got that old camaraderie of the old Big East back. When it got too big, that we lost a little bit.

I can say confidently that we do have a great relationship amongst all the coaches in the Big East. When we play each other, I mean, we want to kill each other. We're going at it. But when it comes tournament time, we really do pull together. We talk to each other. We have texts going between all of us that were in the tournament.

It's just because we're basketball guys. We're in this new world of college athletics that's organized by football. We're just trying to find our place. We feel like we need each other. We all need to be good. We want each other to be good. We really do support each other.

But don't at any time think when we play each other, or when we're recruiting against each other, we're not going against each other. It's like the old school Big East.

Q. I know I've asked you before your philosophy on one-and-dones. Duke, Kentucky, these schools are winning titles with a lot of one-and-dones. Are you purposely not trying to recruit one-and-dones? Have you ever stopped recruiting a kid because you thought he wanted to be a one-and-done? Josh and Ryan's thoughts on the culture of that.
COACH WRIGHT:
Go ahead, Josh.

JOSH HART: I'm trying to think of how to answer that.

This program, this culture is about high-character guys. A lot of guys that have been here love the family. I think that's the reason why a lot of guys are able to stay around so long, because we genuinely love each other, we love the program, we love playing Villanova basketball.

I don't think it's anything like Coach Wright has against anybody that could be a one-and-done. It's nothing like that. We just recruit high-quality guys, guys who love the program, love the culture.

RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I just think to be able to play in this program, to even learn how to play Villanova basketball, it's going to take you more than one year to play.

I would think Coach Wright has no problem taking a one-and-done guy as long as that kid knows how to play that type of basketball that we play on a daily basis.

So I don't think he has anything against those. I'm sure he would love to get guys like that. I think to be a part of this program, it takes a few years, a year or so, to get to know how to play hard and deal with all the little things, focus on everyone else instead of yourself.

COACH WRIGHT: They said it. I was interested to hear what they say, too, because we don't really talk about that.

But, yeah, we just want guys that want to be a part of Villanova University for life. If you're good enough, if you come to Villanova because you want to be a part of it for life, you're good enough to leave after a year and be a first-round pick, I'm all for it, all for it.

I think Josh has a decision to make after this year. Jalen was coming in, everybody was talking about it. He was just concentrating on playing at Villanova.

It doesn't have anything to do with our recruiting whether you're one-and-done or not. It's just, Do you want to be a part of the Villanova community and culture and this program.

Q. Jay, can you comment on Kris Jenkins' recruitment. His recruitment was unique. Can you comment on that and why it was such an interesting experience for you as a coach.
COACH WRIGHT:
Yeah, well, he and Nate were brothers basically. The Britts are a really tight family. We were recruiting Nate. We liked Kris, but we thought he's overweight and he's not going to want to do all the stuff we do.

Do you mind if we bring him?

Yeah, we love him.

When we met with Nate, we met with Kris. You heard all the things we're saying to Nate, but you're going to have to come in here and work hard, get your body fat tested. That's what we want you to do.

As the recruiting went on, Nate Britt, Sr. said, Kris loved it. If he loved that, we want this guy.

It was very simple that way. He came in from day one. As a college freshman, he had to watch what he ate. Had to get tested every morning. Had to ride a bike extra to get his weight down. It's unbelievable.

He continues to get better and better. I think you haven't even seen the best of him yet. He's one of the great examples to anybody in our program. It's why everybody in the team respects him so much.

He's a clown when he wants to be. But on the basketball court, they respect the hell out of him because they see how he's changed his life-style, how he's worked out every morning extra, how he's taken everything we've asked him to do.

It's really impressive.

Q. What would winning this game tomorrow mean in terms of where your program is and what it's about in the big picture?
COACH WRIGHT:
You know what, considering where we are now, I don't really think whether we win it or not is going to make that big of a difference about our program. We're going to recruit the same guys. We're going to do it the same way.

These guys are going to be just great examples of what we want our young men to be. We talk to these guys about the trip to the Final Four. We don't want this to define them. We don't want this to be the greatest thing they do in their life, win a Final Four, win a national championship. We want them to enjoy the hell out of it.

What we want them to enjoy is the competitiveness, the commitment. They love it. They love playing in big games, these guys. They love playing against great teams.

So I don't really think it's going to change much. We're not going to change anything we do. It's not going to make these guys any more loved at Villanova than they already are.

We want to win it bad. I don't think it's going to change our program that much. I think our program's respected for what it is.

Q. Jay, you talked a lot about 'fit'. We got an idea about that 'fit' at Villanova and so forth. What is it that you do that you believe fits Villanova that you might not be able to do somewhere else?
COACH WRIGHT:
We are able to recruit quality people that allow you to coach them, that might not be the biggest names. I mean, all these guys were top-50 players. You're talking about big-name guys. Jalen may be the most hyped of all of them. Like, our school doesn't get caught up in that. Our fans don't get caught up in that.

I know some guys have lost jobs because they haven't gotten the top recruits in their area. Villanova, the administration, appreciates the way we do it, that we want to get guys that fit our culture. They may not be the biggest names. I think these guys are some of the best players in the country, but they don't get the hype as recruits. Villanova appreciates that, you know.

And as long as you're competing and graduating on time, all these guys graduate on time, that's what Villanova cares about, that's what I care about, so it just fits.

Q. Coach, obviously it's a team game. You're in this championship game. For you, you're achieving one of the ultimate goals of any coach. What does it mean to you to have reached this goal? What does this game mean to you? I don't want to take it away from the team as an overall experience, but what does it mean to you to reach this level finally?
COACH WRIGHT
: I look at it as being very fortunate to be in this position with these guys. I know it's not me because I've done what I'm doing with this team with other teams and haven't gotten here.

I'm here because of them, right? We are all in this together.

So our team last year, I felt just as good about in terms of how we operated as a team. Kind of what you heard Ryan saying. The way we went down in the NC State game in our program, we were proud. We were proud. Now, the results, everyone else didn't appreciate. But we did.

It's the same tomorrow night. If we go out there and play Villanova basketball and we're giving it up for each other, we'll be proud. I just feel fortunate to be along, you know, on the ride with these guys.

Then we know a lot of other stuff comes from that. But it's not really what means anything to me. You know, it's these guys. That's probably the best part about reaching this game, is doing it with them.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank Coach Wright and the student-athletes for joining us.

COACH WRIGHT:
Thank you.

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