In advance of Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup between Villanova and Miami, Jay Wright along with Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, and Josh Hart met with media at Louisville's YUM Center.
Q. For all the players, Miami guards are experienced and they seem to drive the ball a lot. They've shot a lot of free throws. What do you guys see in the Miami guards and what about the plans to defend them?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: They have great drivers. They have great scorers on the perimeter. I think one of the things that we're going to have to do to stop them is not show them any space, show them our bodies and our triangles so that they don't see the space to be able to drive into the paint. But we know they're great shooters too so it's going to be a tough matchup for us.
JOSH HART: Just continue, like Ryan said. They're experienced, they're physical, they're strong. We just can't let them see space. We've got to lower to them. We can't just swipe at them. Hopefully, that will slow them down. We've got to have them see their bodies, not see driving spaces, able toward in the lanes.
DANIEL OCHEFU: I think also just adding to what they said, just guarding them as a team. Not one guy is going to stop Rodriguez or McClellan. It's going to be the whole team playing them. Us locking into the scouting report the way we did last time, focusing on Iowa's two main scorers. And a game like this is very similar.
Q. Ryan, I know you've talked about this, but just how similar are you to your head coach and to the other guys? How similar is he to your head coach?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think we're definitely similar in that we have the same mindset of what Villanova basketball is, just playing hard around the floor, giving it your all and just kind of knowing everything out on the floor.
I think he thinks of me as the coach on the floor, and I think I'm an extension of Coach Wright. So I think I'm kind of the bridge between coach and player on the floor and if coach is getting on some of the guys, I know how to just, like, tell them in a different tone and just kind of keep their head on straight to not get frustrated and to know we're all in this together.
JOSH HART: I just continue with what he said, just being a leader, a coach on the court. I see a lot of times, Coach Wright has tough love with all of us. He's able to kind of always be there, be behind us, talk to us, settle us down and just say what Coach wants in a little bit of a friendlier, nicer way.
So he's able to really be a coach on the court and just keep us all together.
DANIEL OCHEFU: Honestly, I don't think they're that much alike. I just think Arch is such a Villanova basketball player, Coach Wright has so much trust in him, he's out there doing exactly what Coach expects. The only thing for me personally that has them being alike is they're from Bucks County. That's pretty much it.
Q. Hi, guys. Coach had said after the game the other night that he'd had a talk with you before, saying hey, we've been here before. If we didn't play great, if we didn't win, it didn't kill us. So he's talked to you guys about having that approach. It's kind of a different approach, actually, not being afraid to fail because it's not going to kill us. How did that theme and that approach from your coach impact you guys? What did you take away from that type of philosophy? And any one of you or all of you can answer that.
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think we've all heard it throughout our four years so it hasn't -- it wasn't just this past game versus Iowa getting past the second game. That's just the way Coach has always been from my freshman year. He's always coached that way. Have no fear in losing as long as we play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Whatever the end result, we'll be satisfied. If we play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes, we'll be successful and there will be a good result in the end.
JOSH HART: The one thing with Coach Wright, he's always real with us. Sometimes he looks at the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario, if we lose, it's not going to kill us. We're still going to be playing -- able to play basketball. We're going to be here.
So we looked at the worst-case scenario, and we could handle the worst-case scenario. That was the biggest part is this is the worst-case scenario. We can handle this. So let's move on and let's just play basketball. Let's not play to get out the second round or anything like that. Just go out there and play Villanova basketball. That's kind of the approach he took.
Q. (Off microphone)?
DANIEL OCHEFU: Just gives us a freer mind. Just what Josh said about the worst-case scenario, the worst-case scenario for us in the Big East Tournament is we lose as the 1 seed. We've done that before.
The worst-case scenario in the NCAA is lose in the first round. We did that before. If we don't get to the Sweet 16, we did that before. Now it's just a different challenge and just getting it out of our mind, we can focus on playing Villanova basketball and keeping it 94 by 50 feet.
Q. Ryan, what are some of the things about yourself that you can see in your coach, and were those some of the things that sort of drew you to him?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think we have a lot of connections, just my mom -- both my parents went to Villanova. His wife went to Villanova. My mom and her lived on the same hall. I think like Daniel said, we're from basically the same town. We went to rival high schools. I played against his younger brother. He was the coach at the rival high school I played against.
I don't think I dress as well as him or anything. I don't know. I think I'm just on the court and just I think that's the way that he wants a Villanova basketball player to be and he thinks that that's the way he wanted to be as a player. And if he could still play, I think he would pick me as the player to play him.
Q. Everyone wants to progress in the postseason. I'd ask each player, what are you guys doing better now than you were at the beginning of the Big East Tournament?
DANIEL OCHEFU: I think our team defense has gotten a lot better, and it just goes -- our younger guys are stepping up, understanding our scouting report more and locking in more. Guys like myself, Josh, Ryan, we're experienced and we've done this before. We've just got to continue staying in ourselves to demand greatness of ourselves. If we're doing it, the younger guys will have an excuse not to do it. When they mess up, we can get on them, teach them to maybe respond. When they're on the bench watching us start the game, they're seeing this is how the starters come out, committed to Villanova basketball, defending and rebounding and sticking to the scouting report. As soon as they get in the game, there's no excuse for them.
JOSH HART: Really, just what Daniel said. Coach Wright really didn't talk too much to us about on the offensive side. It was about defense, about recommitting ourselves to our defensive philosophy. I think the second half of the Seton Hall game defensively is where we kind of picked it up a little bit. Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges came in, played outstanding minutes on the defensive end. That's the reason we were able to get in the game because we committed ourselves to defense.
Then obviously we had the heartbreak at the end of that game. But just moving forward, we focus on defense, defending, rebounding, playing hard. We know we're skilled offensively. But there's going to be days where our shots will fall in that we shoot. Iowa, we shot like 70-something or 60-something percent in the second half. There's going to be games like that.
But we're focusing on the games where we don't shoot the ball well, where we can't buy a basket, but we're defending. We're rebounding. We're in the game because of defense. I think that's something that we're really picking up since the Big East Tournament.
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think we're starting the games off better. I think in the Big East Tournament, we struggled to start the games off strong, both offensively and defensively. We saw we got down early against Seton Hall. In the Asheville and the Iowa game, we came out knowing the scouting report and executing offensively.
I think starting the games off better is probably the one thing I would say that we've been getting better at throughout these last couple games.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, appreciate your time today. Good luck.
Then Jay Wright took the podium...
THE MODERATOR: Whenever you're ready, welcome to Louisville.
COACH WRIGHT: Thank you. Great to be here. Great to be in the Sweet 16. Nice to be in Louisville, not playing the Cardinals. Last time we were here, Yum! Center was -- we had to go against the Cardinals. That wasn't a pretty thing.
But everybody here has been just so friendly and Coach Pitino let us use the practice facility over there, and we just had a good practice. We're ready to go, get our open practice out here and taking on a great team.
This time of year, that's what you get, a very experienced, well coached, disciplined, physically tough team. So we're fired up about it.
Q. Coach, talk about what you think of Louisville as a host city and your overall thoughts on the city, please.
COACH WRIGHT: Well, we used to come here with the Big East. Always loved it. I made a joke, you can tell when you come, as you get into the airport, everybody you meet, college basketball's real important to them. They know who you are. They know the team.
Same thing when you get to the hotel. You just can sense in this city that everybody follows college basketball. Everybody loves college basketball.
It's a perfect site for the NCAA Tournament.
Q. Jay, Ryan -- I know you've talked about this some, but Ryan said if you could still play, he thinks he would be the guy you would reincarnate yourself as, I guess, and you view him as an extension of yourself and all those things. What about him? What parts of yourself do you see in him and maybe just of him does he see in you?
COACH WRIGHT: I did play like him. But not as well. I was not as good a player. But his competitiveness on every possession and in everything he does, from getting over a screen to making the right play, diving on a loose ball, taking every defensive challenge personally, taking responsibility for his teammates, taking responsibility for the entire program.
I love everything about him. And I didn't put that into him. He came in that way. And that's what really made him effective immediately as a freshman and it's why we made him captain as a freshman.
Q. How long have you known Coach Larranaga and what's that relationship like and what is the 3-point drill?
COACH WRIGHT: I met him from my Hofstra days, when I was at Hofstra. And Tom Pecora was a New York guy, and I was learning the New York basketball scene. I was a Philly guy coming in there. Jim is very well respected in New York City basketball, having been a Bronx guy and playing at Molloy for the legendary Coach Curran.
Every time we would recruit somebody -- he was at Bowling Green, Hofstra, Bowling Green were on the same level. We'd think we had somebody, and he'd come in there with much stronger connections. I'd run into him. He went to George Mason, we went to Villanova. We went on Nike trips together. Our wives became friendly, played golf together. We played golf together. He's just a really friendly guy. From our New York connection, we stayed in touch.
We shared ideas. I don't know if I gave him anything. I don't think I did. But he puts -- he gives his players red, yellow and green in terms of how they're allowed to shoot. It's a system. We don't use the colors, but I use the philosophy. I've stolen a number -- there's a number of drills he gave me, where you put time on the clock, how many 3-pointers you can make in that time period.
And then he keeps a record of all his players so he has who has made the most, and Larkin has the most. No one on our team has broken Larkin's record. We've shared that with our guys. We've stolen a lot of drills. I don't think I told our guys I got a lot of them from Miami, except the one, the timed 3-point shooting drill I did because I told the guy what's Larkin made, and guys have tried to beat that.
Q. Jay, continuing on that tone, you mentioned in the past that you hate coaching against your former assistants and your friends.
COACH WRIGHT: Both.
Q. What's it going to be like tomorrow and how much respect do you have for the program he's built at Miami?
COACH WRIGHT: Actually, when you get to the Sweet 16, Final Eight, Final Four, that kind of goes away. I don't know why. Because you're so focused on what you do, you're so happy to be there. And usually, when you get to this point, it's guys you know.
I've learned that over the years, it's guys you either know or guys you've really looked up to. And Jim is both. I really have respect for the fact that when he was at Bowling Green, that was an outstanding program. I knew how good that program was because we were always recruiting against them. I knew who he was getting. I knew their success. I knew their respect that New York City people had for them. Then he went to George Mason, did it again.
We played them in the NCAA tournament. They beat us. And so we were becoming closer friends. Then he goes to Miami and he does it again. And does it the same way. He builds a team. He hired one of our former assistants. He does it with a team family mentality.
And they take great pride in playing the right way and in playing for the name on the front of their jersey. He's done it that way everywhere he's been, and I really respect that.
Q. With that familiarity with him, he kind of mentioned that he looks and sees maybe mirror images between Miami and Villanova. Does that make it easier preparing tomorrow night or because of the rosters, is that the wildcard in the situation?
COACH WRIGHT: That's going to be -- it makes it a little easier to prepare in terms of the work you have to do because we have a lot of similar philosophies. So when you're practicing, the second team can run the offense easily. They know what they're doing.
Where it becomes different is we can't simulate the size and athleticism. You definitely can't do it with your second team. So it's going to be interesting, when you get to the game, are we prepared for the plays and does the size and athleticism kind of smack us in the face when you feel it and see it live. That's what we can't tell until we play.
Q. Coach, can you give us two or three things about Miami that you think will be most challenging? And based on what you saw from their game against Wichita State the other night, how they gave up a 21-point lead, came back, what do you think they got out of that that will make them extra difficult for you guys?
COACH WRIGHT: Let me start with that Wichita State game because it's something we shared with our team and that we were very impressed with.
They started that game very focused and very prepared for an outstanding Wichita State team. Took the lead. Wichita State, great team, came back, took the lead. When they took the lead, you could see in their eyes no panic, no concern. You saw them step it up another level against a team that was on a run.
If you do that any time, you're a good team. But when you do that in the NCAA Tournament, when you fight against momentum in the NCAA Tournament with no panic, momentum in the NCAA Tournament is far greater than any other time during the year.
The crowd got into it, Wichita State got into it. Miami never flinched, took back control of the game and then methodically put them away.
We told our guys, you got to be wily veterans to be able to do that. And to give you three things that they do, number one, their guard play. McClellan and Rodriguez are outstanding. You've got two -- one guard that can really score and create for the other and McClellan, one that is just an incredible scorer.
When you add Newton and Reed, you could actually see that when those two leave, Newton and Reed are going to be the same combo. Because Newton's creative, and he can score like Rodriguez. Reed is incredibly athletic, can shoot it.
But this year, you've got four of them together. It's not just the two. It's the four of them that are outstanding. And then you take their forwards who play the role of screening for them, rebounding extremely well, but also if you spend too much attention on those guards, those guys can score.
It's a really unique team. It's what makes them a great team.
Q. I have a two-part question about Kris Jenkins. One, he just described himself coming out of high school as a fat kid and that you had a vision for him that you kind of put in front of him. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what that vision was. And the second part is how do you feel like he makes kind of everything work in terms of being a four guy who can play somebody bigger defensively and take advantage offensively?
COACH WRIGHT: I'm glad he said that, he was a fat kid. I would never say that about anybody, but he was -- he had a lot more mass than he should have had on that bone structure.
When we watched him in high school, we saw an outstanding basketball player, an outstanding leader, and an outstanding scorer that took his team to a championship and was the Player of the Year in Washington, D.C.
And we're looking at him, and we're saying the only thing negative about this kid is that he's overweight. That's it. So we were recruiting his teammate, Nate Britt, and his brother. So we brought them both up together. But we were recruiting Nate.
We said to Kris, we would love to have you if you would really want to come in here and get into shape and cut your body fat because we think if you did that, you could be an incredible basketball player. But if you don't, you can't really play at this level.
We didn't really -- we weren't real aggressive about that. We just said that was reality. And he became very interested in us. Once we saw that he wanted that, we said, we got something special here.
And if you could imagine coming into college and as a freshman in college having to cut out suites, cut out juice, not eat candy. I mean, I followed him -- we ate dinner one time, we went out to dinner as a team. We came into the restaurant and I saw him sneak into a drug store and I followed him in and got behind him to see what he would buy. We ate a nice healthy dinner and he bought candy bars and juice. I came in behind him in the line and he turned around and said oh, no. I made him give it back.
To go through that in college is not easy. And we have so much respect for him for doing that. And what he gives us is a guy that can play any position on the floor and now he's learning how to play as a conditioned athlete.
There's one thing to get conditioned. But if you played your whole way as an unconditioned athlete, that's how you play. Now he's learning how to play like a conditioned athlete and he can play anywhere on the floor.
So he's a mismatch nightmare for the opponent, but he's also a valuable, resourceful player for us that can play any position.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, appreciate your time. Good luck.
COACH WRIGHT: Thank you, guys.
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