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Villanova Basketball’s 2019 award ceremony honors players and alumni

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Thursday night was a wonderful mix of acknowledging former players and saying goodbye to those who are leaving.

Thursday night was an both an amazing spectacle and a roller coaster of emotions. Fans had the opportunity to welcome back familiar faces, and honor those who have fought, laughed, and cried with us over the years. It was truly a wonderful evening that I won’t soon forget. But enough about the midnight showing of Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, I also attended Villanova Basketball’s 2019 Award Ceremony and it was equally fantastic.

Last night’s ceremony honored everyone that contributed to the 2019 season, the 99th season of Villanova Basketball. Donors, alums, staff, coaches, and players were all thanked for their efforts, while a select few were singled out for individual acknowledgement. The even also serves as a final farewell to the senior class. This year that included Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, Joe Cremo, Peyton Heck, and Tim Delaney who will graduate and transfer at the end of the semester.

As great as it was to see players awarded for their efforts, the best part of the evening for me were the speeches. Not just from the seniors, but also from Father Peter and Jay Wright. They gave us some insight into last year’s team and the players who will be returning for the 100th season of Villanova Basketball. But before we get to that, here’s a quick rundown of the award winners form last night’s event.

The Villanova Basketball Award Ceremony Honors

Special Thank Yous and Acknowledgements - The former players for the Villanova Basketball program, the Villanova Cheerleaders, the Villanova Dance Team, The Villanova Pep Band, The Nation, The Villanova Mascots, Jay and Patty Wright, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall for scoring their 1,000th career points at Villanova.

Nova Nation Award - Members of the Special Olympics committee and athletes who set up and performed in the inaugural Unified Game.

Joseph Waters Special Recognition Award - Joe and Angie Campolo for their contributions to the team and the university. Jay Wright said of them, “They’re truly great Villanovans, and they make Villanova basketball go.”

Alumni Appreciation Award - BJ Johnson. When Wright came to Villanova, Johnson was a practice player for the women’s team. By his senior season, he was starting games for the Villanova Wildcats. He’s now with the Brooklyn Nets and USA Basketball, and has helped graduates of Villanova gain inroads with both organizations.

Chris M. Dincuff Memorial Scholarship - Jim Murray

Teresa and Joseph J. Martini ‘61 Endowed Scholarship in Honor of Randy Foye ‘06 - Chris Montie

Paul Arizin Award - Jermaine Samuels. Given to the most improved player of the 2019 season.

Alexander Severance Award - Tim Delaney. Given to the player that most exemplifies dedication in the classroom.

Jake Nevin Award - Collin Gillespie and Joe Cremo. Given to the players who show selflessness in putting the needs of the team above their own.

Villanova Attitude Award - Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Given to the player who best demonstrates the Villanova Basketball core concept of Attitude on and off the court.

Most Outstanding Player - Eric Paschall. Honoring the on court contributions of one of the team’s most outstanding players.

The Villanova Basketball Award - Phil Booth. This is the highest honor for a Villanova Basketball player.

A recap and quotes from the evening

As I said earlier, the speeches were the best part of the evening. Scott Graham and Ryan Fannon were the MC’s for the evening, but the first speaker was Father Peter. He congratulated the team for their accomplishments this season, specifically pointing out that they did more than most thought they could. He acknowledged another successful season for Jay Wright, explicitly saying, “Look at me [Jay], you’re never leaving. Not as long as I’m here!” Finally he thanked the seniors, “You’re some of the finest people we have here at Villanova.”

Next up was head coach Jay Wright. First he and his wife Patty along with Father Peter handed out what’s become nearly an annual gift of watches for earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The watches were handed out to the staff and players, including both players who will be transferring at the end of the semester in Tim Delaney and Jahvon Quinerly, who received a round of cheers from those in attendance as a thank you for his lone season with the team. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall of course received standing ovations when their names were called.

When he finally got on the mic, Wright started by talking about those that came before us. He reflected on the memorial mass by Father Rob and Father Peter that was held earlier in the evening to celebrate former members of the program who have passed. He proudly acknowledged the accomplishments of Mike Sherridan, the Assistant AD of Communications, who was awarded the Katha Quinn Award at this year’s Final Four for his work in serving the media. Wright also reflected on the journey of his assistant coach Mike Nardi, who this year was the 33rd Villanovan inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame. He also was sorry that AD Mark Jackson was unable to join the festivities as he was in Los Angeles for meetings with Fox Sports on Villanova’s behalf.

Then Wright spoke about his seniors. He said that his beliefs were confirmed this year that trying to learn everything you need to in order to succeed in the Villanova Basketball system is very hard to do, but that Joe Cremo did it. He said they may never accept another grad transfer unless he finds someone else just like “Joe-Joe”. Wright then moved on to describe Peyton Heck as possibly the most unheralded yet impactful player he’s ever had at Villanova. He praised Tim Delaney for finding anyway he could to contribute to the team, whether it be recording stats on the sideline or making the coaching staff think ‘are we sure this guy is injured?’ when having a great practice. And finally, Wright thanked his senior captains in Phil Booth and Eric Pascahll for putting their teammates before themselves, and foregoing personal glory to be leaders for this team.

The first of the senior players to speak was Joe Cremo. He started by acknowledging that he was “not as good as coach with this public speaking,” but he certainly was underselling himself a bit. He thanked his parents, former players, the fans, his coaches, and his teammates for embracing him into the family that is Villanova Basketball. He ended with “Nova Nation, thank you for giving me a second home.”

Peyton Heck’s speech was short but impactful, much as his head coach had described him. He thanked his parents first, then praised Wright saying, “The life lessons that this senior class have learned from you all these years are priceless.” Finally to his teammates, “You guys are my brothers for life.”

Tim Delaney rounded out the first round of senior speeches with a far more relaxed demeanor, joking and entertaining the audience. But he also gave the most moving speech of the night, saying he had learned two things from his injuries and his time at Villanova. First “It made me realize how much I love basketball.” As Wright had said earlier, Delaney was willing to do anything if it meant he was contributing to the team and the game he loved. The second lesson, “There are very few people who will do anything for you in this life.” He went on to talk about his relationship with his mother, and the rest of his family. After every surgery and every setback, when doctors and advisosrs said he shouldn’t be playing let alone walking, his mother put Tim’s opinion above all others. If he wanted to play basketball she was going to support him completely, and that’s something he was truly thankful for. Delaney spoke to how much he appreciated his teammates, and ended with a joke about how Phil Booth had bought 100 rubber ducks on Amazon and put them all over his room. Booth would later deny it, saying it was Tim that had done that to everyone else.

Tim Delaney, along with Joe Cremo and Peyton Heck, may not have gotten a ton of playing time. But it was clear they had a profound and lasting impact on their coaches, teammates, and everyone else who was fortunate enough to spend time with them at Villanova.

After the rest of the awards had been handed out, Wright called his senior captains and their families to the stage. He spoke to how when he recruited these two players, their families were adamant about trusting Wright with their sons. He talked about how every Big East coach would tell him they wished they had guys like Booth and Paschall on their team. These players were with Villanova through the greatest stretch in program history, and now it was finally time to say goodbye.

Wright introduced Eric Paschall first. He said the only thing that could hold Eric back from an amazing NBA career might be that he’s too nice. When Paschall finally came to the mic, he thanked his friends and family who had been behind him throughout his career. He thanked his coaches and teammates, specifically Phil Booth who oddly had been his host when he came to visit Villanova. He thanked his “annoying” older sisters, playfully taking jabs at them as they cheered for him from the crowd. He thanked his parents for all they had given him. And finally he thanked the fans and Villanova University for standing behind him his entire career. Eric Paschall may not have spent his entire collegiate career at Villanova, but he’ll certainly go down as one of the school’s all-time greats.

The last speaker of the night was Phil Booth. Wright said of Phil that he’s never had a player that was loved and respected as much by everyone on the team, and his speech showed why. Booth took the time to tell stories about and truly thank every member of his family, the basketball staff, the coaches, and his teammates. It was entertaining, moving, and by far the best speech of the evening. While it would take to long to recap the entire speech, there were some memorable shout outs.

Booth thanked his mother for everything she’s done for him, saying she was one of the smartest people he knows. He thanked Coach Wright for teaching him about basketball and life. He thanked Coach Halcovage for being his personal psychologist and being able to talk about anything but basketball. He thanked Jahvon Quinerly for coming through some difficult times this season and really helping the team in any way he could, wishing him good luck wherever he lands next season. He thanked Collin Gillespie, saying that there was no challenge that kid wouldn’t stand up to. He thanked Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Brandon Slater as guys that would always push the rest of the team. He thanked Saddiq Bey as a guy that was always going to fight by your side no matter what obstacle you had to overcome. Overall he thanked all the underclassmen, as did Paschall, for making this season easy for them by alwyas looking for and receptive of coaching and guidance. And of course he thanked the fans and Villanova saying, “What matters most to me are the memories and the wins... I couldn’t ask for a better 5 years.”

Thoughts for the future

While these events are great, there’s a lot of patting on the back and of course everyone’s going to be complimentary. But there were some things that stood out to me as I listed to the players and coaching staff speak throughout the night.

The first thing that struck me was that Villanova should have a solid leadership group despite lacking any senior players. The junior class were all on the 2018 National Championship squad, and this season has gone a long way in preparing them to lead the Wildcats. Collin Gillespie was a captain this season, and should enter next year as the vocal leader for this team. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree seems to be poised to replace Phil Booth as the heart of this team, someone loved and respected by all of his teammates. And Jermaine Samuels already fits the mold of someone who leads by example. I’m not talking about his play on the court (though that certainly adds to it), but his willingness to do whatever he could to best help the team, like switching from the wing to play center this season.

Another theme that seemed to emerge was the passion of the freshman class, especially as detailed by Phil Booth. He said Cole Swider was always asking to go shoot and continue working on his game. Booth also said Brandon Slater was a constant source of energy in practice, and would push everyone he went up against. And of course Saddiq Bey has proven to be an unexpected star, earning a spot in the starting lineup and being named Big 5 rookie of the year and making the Big East All-Freshman Team.

Bottom line, the future of Villanova Basketball looks as bright as ever. Not only are they bringing in the highest rated class Jay Wright has ever had, their six returning players look poised for success. As Ryan Fannon reminded us, as of today we’re just 146 days away from the first practice of the 2020 season!