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The X-Factors: Villanova trio ready for their sophomore ascension

With a year in the books, what did the sophomores learn from last season and how are they looking to grow?

-Eugene Rapay/VU Hoops

In a team packed with NBA talent, not a lot was expected of the incoming freshman class at the start of the 2017-18 college basketball season.

There was no immediate pressure to contribute immediately. They were able to watch, they were able to grow, and all three were able to contribute at some point or another during the Wildcats’ run to their third national championship in school history.

This season, things are different, the stakes are higher. With the mass exodus that struck Villanova this past summer, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels will all have enhanced roles to play in the upcoming season.

“They know what it takes,” said redshirt senior captain Phil Booth.

For one sophomore, it’s been quite the ascension, rising from a not-so-highly touted recruit coming out of Archbishop Wood (Pa.) to a recently named locked in the starting lineup.

Collin Gillespie shined in the eyes of Villanova fans and especially Jay Wright’s staff last season. The freshman guard was trusted from the tip last season accumulating 19 minutes in his collegiate debut against Columbia, playing in almost every game he could, and topping things off with a steady 16-minute outing in the National Championship.

That trust has only seemed to grow since the horn sounded in San Antonio. When asked about his projected starting lineup Wright seemed to give the guard a vote of confidence.

“I’d like Collin to get into that spot,” Wright said. “Gillespie has really stepped up both in his play and his leadership.”

Alongside fifth-year senior co-captains Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, Gillespie will add his mark to the starting five—a much bigger role that comes with larger responsibilities.

So far, he’s taking it with stride and approaching all the same as he did last year.

“Be more assertive and bring energy earlier and faster in games,” Gillespie said of his mindset.

The 6-foot-3 guard also communicated that he would be comfortable in a role as a primary ball handler or as a player off the ball.

“Doesn’t matter to me,” replied Gillespie, who then referenced his off-ball experience from his time on the floor with Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson last season.

The local product did not stop there when referencing Brunson. He’s picked up a couple of things from Villanova’s first-ever National Player of the Year that he hopes to incorporate, as he takes a bigger role this year. (You can read more on Gillespie’s season outlook here.)

“He taught me how to approach the game,” Gillespie said of Brunson. “The night before, he knew the scouting report like the back of his hand.”

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A very candid Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree also spoke on his experiences from the past season. The big man from Philadelphia was featured in all 40 of the Wildcats’ games last season and that experience should pay dividends in 2018-19.

DCR stated that his freshman year allowed for him to “learn what it is to be a Villanova basketball player” especially when it came to concepts from the coaching staff. He says that first-year players quickly learn and see that “it’s hard to be a Villanova basketball player” before indicating that he and his teammates must “be willing to sacrifice for their brothers.”

The area of improvement that Cosby-Roundtree would most like to highlight for himself is more mental than physical.

“I want to be a leader,” said Cosby-Roundtree. “Try to help us be the best team we can be.”

The multitude of veterans that DCR was surrounded by last season certainly seemed to impact the young forward. He acknowledged that he “learned from everyone last year” and will be looking to exemplify those lessons both on and off the court. He then smiled and pointed out that “learning and battling with Omari” was especially valuable to him.

Last season, Cosby-Roundtree provided an option in the low block as a change-up from the usual three point barrage that the ‘Cats unleash on their opponents. The big man eclipsed double digits in points three times during the 2017-18 season in match-ups against Marquette and Providence, as well as Radford in the NCAA tournament. He will look to build on that this season.

“I’m comfortable both rolling to the basket and setting up inside,” he said.

Time will tell if the forward can become a force in the post (Read more on Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree here).

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As for the final member of last year’s freshman class, Jermaine Samuels had a few setbacks to overcome. He struggled to gain as much of a foothold as the other two freshmen did throughout the season. It took him a little longer than he would have liked to acclimate himself to the college basketball landscape. Just as he was starting to get into a groove on the court, he suffered a hand injury.

This time around, the Wildcats’ wing player is not allowing anything to hold him back.

“I am confident in my ability,” said a jovial Samuels. “I view myself as an all-around basketball player...My strong suit is defense, shooting, rebounding, driving. I just want to improve as a basketball player.”

The confidence certainly seems to be there for Samuels, as he approaches his sophomore season. (Check out more on that here.) Gone are the nerves, the hand injury, and the obstacles he has overcome along the way. A year older and wiser, Samuels feels ready for the day-to-day grind.

“When stuff hits the fan, you deal with it with attitude,” Samuels said.

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This is a team in transition after the rock solid stability that has surrounded the program of late.

With the exit of Brunson, Bridges, Spellman and DiVincenzo there is certainly a surplus of minutes out there for Gillespie, Cosby-Roundtree and Samuels to claim. They’ve shown flashes of their potential last season, but this year is a big opportunity for them.

Viewed as “X-Factors” by head coach Jay Wright, these sophomores’ development and growth will be crucial, as they serve as a supporting cast to older players. Expect them to help drive the Wildcats during their encore after their national championship season.