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Jay Wright’s Journey To 500 Wins: The Coaching Tree

Behind every great coach is a few more great coaches.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova vs La Salle Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jay’s 500 Wins: Hofstra | Returning to Villanova | The Championship | The Players

Four Hundred and Ninety Nine. That’s how many wins Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright has amassed in his now 23rd season as a Division I men’s college basketball coach. That means he’s just one win away from his 500th victory, a major milestone that only 62 other coaches have achieved. And Wright isn’t just approaching the mark, he’s about to burst through it Kool-Aid Man style.

Wright will finally get his first chance to hit that milestone on Saturday afternoon, but in an interesting twist, he won’t be the only one. Florida State head coach, and former Big East coach at Miami, Leonard Hamilton will also be playing for his 500th career win Saturday evening when the Seminoles travel to Notre Dame. The two coaches have never faced each other, but should Wright get the win he will technically be the 63rd coach to join the 500 Win club as his game is earlier.

As we enter Part 5 of the (now) 6 Part series on how Jay got to 500, we take a look at the people who get the least amount of praise for doing the most amount of work on the entire team: the coaching staff. Every great coach has a great staff, Wright runs 12 deep with his. There’s just so much involved in running an elite college basketball team that the head coach needs to be able to rely on his staff. Whether it be scouting, recruiting, player development, media relations, medical support, or any number of additional responsibilities, Jay Wright has consistently surrounded himself with successful coaches that have proven themselves with him and beyond.

While they all do important work, we can’t cover them all in this piece. Records of coaching staffs just haven’t been well preserved on the inter-webs. We’ll do our best to piece it all together, and I’d appreciate you adding in anyone we missed in the comments section. Now, limb by limb, let’s climb our way up the Jay Wright Coaching Tree.

The Hofstra Branch: Wright’s First Staff

Wright started his head coaching career with just three assistant coaches. Two went on to be head coaches of their own D-1 teams, while the other is now one of the top NBA assistant coaches in the league.

Tom Pecora, FOX Sports Analyst

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Hofstra: 1994-2001)

Record With Wright: 207-122 (.589)

After Wright: Head Coach (Hofstra: 2001-2010; Fordham: 2010-2015)

Pecora was Wright’s assistant coach during Jay’s seven years at Hofstra, and he took over as head coach when Jay moved on to Villanova. It took a little time after Wright left for him to get his footing, but soon Pecora put up four 20+ win seasons in five years. He never achieved the success of his predecessor, but the stretch was enough to get him recognized at the next level.

In 2010 he became the head coach at Fordham, a member of the Atlantic 10 conference. But Pecora was never able to recreate his success, and had five consecutive losing seasons. He did have one more connection with Wright, when his own A-10 Rookie of the Year Eric Paschal decided to transfer from Fordham to Villanova at the end of 2015. Paschal just started his first game for the Wildcats this past Saturday.

Joe Jones, Boston University Head Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Hofstra: 1994-1997; Villanova: 2001-2003)

Record With Wright: 65-80 (.448)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 1997-2001; Boston College: 2010-2011), Head Coach (Columbia: 2003-2010; Boston University: 2011-Current)

Joe Jones was another member of Wright’s first coaching staff. After leaving in ‘97 to join Steve Lappas at Villanova, Jones stayed when Wright took over in 2001. Two years later, Jones got his first head coaching opportunity with Columbia. But in his seven years there he had just one winning season, and never finished higher than 4th in the Ivy league.

After Columbia, Jones spent a year on Steve Donahue’s Boston College staff. Donahue is now a fellow Big 5 Coach with Jay at Penn, and Jones would move across the city in 2011 from BC to BU as he became the Terriers new head coach. This time around, Jones found immediate success. Now in his sixth season, he’s had three winning seasons including the 2014 Patriot League Regular Season Championship.

Brett Gunning, Houston Rockets Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Hofstra: 1994-2001; Villanova: 2001-2008)

Record With Wright: 270-168 (.609)

After Wright: Director of Player Development (Houston Rockets: 2008-2011), Assistant Coach (Houston Rockets: 2011-2012, 2015-Current; Orlando Magic: 2012-2015)

Gunning has the distinction of being on Wright’s staff the longest. Not only was he an assistant for 14 seasons, but he was a student assistant with Wright under Rollie Massimino at Villanova and UNLV from 1990-1994. Brett would win three conference championships and make six trips to the NCAA tournament with Wright before leaving for the NBA.

Gunning would join Rick Adleman’s staff during his second season as the Rockets head coach. Brett would stay with the Rocket’s organization for four seasons before joining Jacque Vaughn when he took over as head coach of the Orlando Magic. Just as he did at the college level, Gunning built a reputation as one of the best assistant coaches in the NBA. And so, when Vaughn was let go by the Magic in 2015, the Rockets happily brought him back into the organization. He’s still an assistant head coach, now under Mike D’Antoni, and the Rockets are currently 3rd overall in the NBA’s Western Conference.

The Early Villanova Branch: Developing Future Head Coaches

Wright continued to show that he could build a staff just as successfully as he could build a team. Three members of his early Villanova teams went on to be head coaches themselves.

Billy Lange, Philadelphia 76ers Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2001-2004), Associate Head Coach (Villanova: 2011-2013)

Record With Wright: 85-79 (.518)

After Wright: Head Coach (Navy: 2004-2011), Assistant Coach (Philadelphia 76ers: 2013-Current)

Coming off of Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships with D-III U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Lange joined Wright’s first staff at Villanova where he could learn how to win at the D-I Level. Lange played a crucial role in bringing in and developing the class of Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Fraser, and Curtis Sumpter. But he was never able to take part in their success at Villanova as just three years into his time with Jay, he was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Navy.

After seven seasons at Navy in which Lange brought the program back from doormat to conference competitor, Lange returned to Wright’s program as the associate head coach. He would again be involved in recruiting and developing an impactful Villanova class when they brought in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. But yet again, Lange wasn’t able to see the class’s success come to fruition, as he accepted a position on Brett Brown’s staff with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jason Crafton, Nyack Head Coach

Under Wright: Admin. Assistant (Villanova: 2003-2005)

Record With Wright: 42-25 (.626)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Navy: 2005-2012), Head Coach (Nyack: 2012-Current)

Crafton started out on Wright’s coaching staff as more of a video coordinator, but that didn’t keep him from passing on knowledge to the players and learning from the staff. Randy Foye said of his former coach, “[Crafton] goes the extra mile to make you a better person, student, and basketball coach.”

Those attributes paved the way for his opportunity to work under friend and former Wright staff member Billy Lange. Crafton became an assistant coach for Navy for seven seasons, using what he and Lange had learned under Wright to build the Midshipmen’s program. Then, in 2012, he was offered the head coaching position at D-II Nyack, and he’s been there ever since. Crafton even got the opportunity to play an exhibition game against his former mentor in 2014.

Fred Hill, Seton Hall Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2001-2005)

Record With Wright: 76-54 (.584)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Rutgers: 2005-2006; Northwestern: 2011-2013; Seton Hall: 2013-Current), Head Coach (Rutgers: 2006-2010)

Fred Hill had been quite the journeyman coach before joining Jay’s first staff at Villanova, his 8th assistant coaching position. He had previously held the role at Montclair State, Lehigh, Rider, Marquette, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Seton Hall, where he’d later return to. Hill was with Wright for four seasons, helping to establish the vision Jay had for his program and get Villanova to its first NCAA tournament under their new head coach.

Hill would leave in 2005 to become an assistant at Rutgers, the school Wright had planed to coach at after Hofstra before the Wildcats came calling. After a year, he became the team’s head coach in 2006. Unfortunately, Hill was never able to get his teams over .500. After four seasons, he resigned amid controversy which involved him yelling at Pitt coaches at a Rutgers baseball game. Hill is now on Kevin Willard’s staff at Seton Hall, and will host Villanova later this month.

The Penn State Branch: Villanova’s Family Out West

What happens to Jay Wright coaches and players after they leave his program? Well thanks to Pat Chambers, there’s a good chance they end up about 3 hours west of Philly.

Patrick Chambers, Penn State Head Coach

Under Wright: Associate Head Coach (Villanova: 2004-2009)

Record with Wright: 126-45 (.736)

After Wright: Head Coach (Boston University: 2009-2011; Penn State: 2011-Current)

Pat Chambers was a local kid who grew up in Radnor and played at Philadelphia University. He joined Wright’s staff in 2004 after three years as an assistant at his alma mater, and would quickly rise up the ranks to Associate Head Coach.

After helping Wright reach the Final Four in 2009, he became the head coach at Boston University. There he would put together back to back 21 win seasons and make the NCAA tournament in his second year. Not long after, Penn State would come calling and Chambers would be replaced at BU by fellow member of the Wright Coaching Tree, Joe Jones.

At Penn State, Chambers has been slowly building better and better teams using his recruiting roots in Philadelphia and his staff which is made up of almost entirely coaches with Villanova ties. Not only did he bring in Keith Urgo from Jay Wright’s staff, he also brought in two players he coached at Nova as Assistants. Dwayne Anderson joined as an assistant after completing his playing career in Europe in 2013. Ross Condon, a former Wildcat walk-on, joined Chambers staff at Boston University and followed him to Penn State before being elevated to Assistant Coach in 2015. The Nittany Lions are 13-12 this season and just upset a ranked Maryland team.

Keith Urgo, Penn State Associate Head Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2007-2011)

Record with Wright: 98-41 (.705)

After Wright: Associate Head Coach (Penn State: 2011-Current)

Keith Urgo joined Wright’s staff as a Video Coordinator in 2007. He worked his way through the ranks up to Assistant Head Coach before Pat Chambers asked him to join his staff at Penn State.

With Chambers, Urgo became the Associate Head Coach in 2014. The two have filled their staff with former staffers and players under Jay Wright, and it’s proven to be a successful equation. Penn State is on an upward trend under the current staff and is becoming a force in the very difficult Big 10.

The Former Wildcats Branch: Players Returning To Coach

As Jay has always preached, “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.” That’s especially true for these former players that would eventually coach for their alma mater under Wright.

Ed Pinckney, Minnesota Timberwolves

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2003-2007)

Record With Wright: 92-41 (.691)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Minnesota Timberwolves: 2007-2009, 2016-Current; Chicago Bulls: 2010-2015; Denver Nuggets: 2015-2016)

The star of Villanova’s 1985 National Championship team, Pinckney returned to his alma mater to begin his coaching career under Jay Wright. Pinckney had a crucial role in developing big men like Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan. He would soon move on to the NBA, where he’s been coaching now for a decade, the majority of which under Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. He is currently joined on the Timberwolves staff by Rick Brunson, father of current Wildcat starter Jalen Brunson.

Doug West, Altoona Area High School Head Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2007-2010, 2011-2012)

Record With Wright: 90-48 (.652)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Rio Grande Valley Vipers: 2012-2015), Head Coach (Penn State Altoona: 2015-2016, Altoona Area High School: 2016-Current)

Doug West started his collegiate coaching career at Duquesne for a year before replacing Ed Pinckney as an Assistant Coach on Jay Wright’s staff in 2007. This would be just the first time in his coaching career that he got to lead his alma mater. After his second stint on the staff, he would move to the pros where he spent three seasons on the staff for the NBA D-League team the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

West’s first head coaching position came back close to his home town when he took over the Penn State Altoona program. After a disappointing 7-15 season, West was given the opportunity to take over his original alma mater, Altoona Area High School.

Curtis Sumpter, Delaware 87ers Player Development Coach

Under Wright: Student Development Coach (Villanova: 2012-2013)

Record With Wright: 20-14 (.588)

After Wright: Player Development Assistant (Philadelphia 76ers: 2013-2016), Player Development Coach (Delaware 87ers: 2016-Current)

Curtis Sumpter was one of the best players Wright had ever coached, or at least would have been had his career not been plagued with injury. After his playing career finished, he returned to his alma mater and his former coach to join the staff for a year in student development. Sumpter would then move to the NBA in a similar role with the 76ers, and this season has moved into the same position with their D-League team the 87ers.

Jason Fraser, Phoenix Suns Player Development Assistant

Under Wright: Student Development Coach (Villanova: 2013-2014)

Record With Wright: 29-5 (.853)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Austin Spurs: 2014-2015), Player Development Assistant (Phoenix Suns: 2015-Current)

Fraser followed in his former teammate’s footsteps and replaced Sumpter as the Student Development Coach on Wright’s staff. Also like Sumpter, he was only there a year before jumping to the ranks of the pros with an Assistant Coaching position on the Austin Spurs, San Antonio’s D-League team. A year later it was up to the big time as Fraser secured a position with the Suns, where he’s still coaching today.

The Former Assistants Branch: Great Coaches That Found Their Path Elsewhere

Not every coach goes on to be a head coach, and they don’t always stay under Wright. These coaches were major contributors during their time on the main line, and saddly missed when they left Jay’s staff.

Andrew Francis, Iowa Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Video Coordinator (Villanova: 2005-2007)

Record With Wright: 50-16 (.757)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Siena: 2007-2010; Iowa: 2010-Current)

Andrew Francis left his job to take on an unpaid video internship with Jay Wright’s staff at Villanova. That was how passionate he was about basketball. “I was just so impressed how a grown man who had a good job really loved ball and had a great deal of humility and would take the lowest job on the staff and have great enthusiasm about it.” Wright said of his former staff member. It had such an impact on Jay that he recommended Francis for a position at Siena with then head coach Fran McCaffery.

Francis would join McCaffery’s staff and stay with him for over 10 years, currently coaching at Iowa. Wright would face his former staffer last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, where the Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes en route to their National Championship.

Rafael Chillious, Washington Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2012-2013)

Record With Wright: 20-14 (.588)

After Wright: Associate Head Coach (Washington: 2013-Current)

Coach Chill had come to the Main Line after three seasons as an assistant coach at Washington University, where he had made a name for himself as an elite recruiter. His time with Wright was short lived, but it was a great experience for both sides. He was given the opportunity to return to Washington with a greater job scope, but spoke fondly of his time at Villanova. This season, Chillious was elevated to the role of Associate Head Coach.

The Championship Branch: Wright’s Current Staff

There’s nothing like a National Championship to really build your resume on a coaching staff. This group, along with Jay of course, has delivered Nova Nation to the promissed land. We should treasure these guys while we have them, because they’re just too good not to get their own teams one day.

Baker Dunleavy, Villanova Associate Head Coach

Under Wright: Dir. of Basketball Operations (2010-2012), Assistant Coach (2012-2013), Associate Head Coach (2013-Current)

Record with Wright: 174-60 (.743)

After playing for Jay until he graduated in 2006, Dunleavy went to Wall Street before he decided to shift his career back to basketball and joined Wright’s Staff. Since becoming the Associate Head Coach, the team has put up one of the best records in school history, going 120-15. After being considered for a number of Head Coaching positions this past off-season, he decided to return to Villanova to help the Cats defend their National Championship.

Ashley Howard, Villanova Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2013-Current)

Record with Wright: 120-15 (.888)

Howard joined Wright’s staff as an experienced Big 5 coach with Philadelphia roots. After playing for Drexel, he coached at both La Salle and his alma mater before joining the Wildcats for their unprecedented 120-15 record over the past four seasons.

Kyle Neptune, Villanova Assistant Coach

Under Wright: Video Coordinator (Villanova: 2008-2010), Assistant Coach (Villanova: 2013-Current)

Record With Wright: 120-15 (.888)

After Wright: Assistant Coach (Niagara: 2010-2013)

Neptune made his return to the Villanova staff in 2013. Now as an assistant, he has been a crucial contributor in player development and recruiting. All of this helped lead to the 2016 National Championship.

George Halcovage, Villanova Director of Basketball Operations

Under Wright: Graduate Assistant/Video Intern (Villanova: 2008-2012), Video Coordinator (Villanova: 2012-2015), Director of Basketball Operations (2016-Current)

Record With Wright: 229-76 (.750)

Halcovage joined Wright’s staff back in 2008 as a graduate assistant while earning his MBA from Villanova. After graduating, he joined the staff as the video coordinator before being promoted to Director of Basketball Operations in 2016. He and Kyle Neptune are the only members of Wright’s coaching staff that were there for both the 2009 Final Four and the 2016 National Championship.

Mike Nardi, Villanova Video Coordinator

Under Wright: Director of Student-Athlete Development (Villanova: 2015-2016), Video Coordinator (2016-2017)

Record With Wright: 58-7 (.892)

Mike Nardi is the third former player Wright has had join his staff in the Director of Student-Athlete Development role. While Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser quickly moved onto the pros, Nardi has stayed on and was promoted to Video Coordinator this season. His .892 winning percentage while on the staff is the highest of any coach Wright has ever had, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he keeps his former floor general around for a while.