It's been six weeks since Villanova junior guard Phil Booth appeared in a game. He's been sidelined due to left knee inflammation, and it's the same knee that Booth had off-season surgery on. No official timetable has been given on his return, though on the Dec. 10 CBS broadcast of the Notre Dame game it was briefly mentioned that Booth could be out a month longer.
While Booth's injury was supposed to be a death blow to Villanova's depth, the Wildcats have survived and thrived with a seven-man rotation. Jay Wright's team is 14-0, No. 1 in the country and has beaten ranked teams Notre Dame and Creighton without Booth. Increased roles for Mikal Bridges in the starting lineup and Donte DiVincenzo as the team's backup point guard have filled Booth's immediate need, and every starter is seeing increased minutes.
Assuming Booth is not already eyeing a targeted return date, he likely reaches closer to needing to make a very important decision not just for himself but also for the the team as a whole: to play this season or the medical redshirt? Both have their pros and cons, and below we look at what either choice would mean.
Why Phil Booth should come back this season
While Villanova has survived without Booth, playing just a seven-man rotation is a dicey proposition. The Wildcats are constantly one injury or foul trouble away from a very, very short bench, which could ultimately be the team's demise. As was seen in last year's NCAA title game, Booth can create instant offense off the bench, but most importantly, he gives the team a second, reliable ball handler. DiVincenzo is not as natural a point guard as Booth and has been prone to some crucial mistakes.
If Booth values short-term success over long-term health, than he surely realizes that this is another special Villanova group that could win back-to-back NCAA titles and college basketball immortality. He likely sees this as possibly his last chance for another title with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins graduating after this season, and also likely realizes that the team desperately needs more depth and a backup point guard. In the end, he'd be choosing a chance for two titles over an extra year of college basketball eligibility. It should also be noted that Booth's professional opportunities will likely not be in the NBA, so an extra year might not have any benefit in that regard.
Why Phil Booth should not come back this season
At just 21 years old, Booth has a long basketball career ahead of him. In that long career, he will probably be paid handsomely overseas to play professional basketball. He is not being paid right now, and if he rushes back to join this year's team, Booth could potentially jeopardize his career earnings. This isn't about being selfish. This is about Booth making sure that he will be healthy enough to one day provide for his family. By essentially taking a year off, his knee should be significantly better, and he'll have an extra year of eligibility to display his skills.
As for Villanova, the team is clicking right now and has compensated for Booth. While the Wildcats would not be opposed to a deeper bench, the team is in rhythm and perhaps throwing Booth into the mix would disrupt that rhythm, especially if his return was much later in the season. Booth's return right now would be a luxury, but Villanova doesn't necessarily need him to win another title. It's clear they are one of college basketball's best teams either way. Down the line, it should only help the team to have a veteran like Booth in the fold for the 2018-19 season as a fifth-year senior.