Every year, at Big East Media Day--when coaches and select players gather at Madison Square Garden for a day of fun video spots, photo shoots, and interviews with reporters--it seems like Jay Wright is always asked about one-and-dones.
Although Villanova has had the reputation of being a school that usually has players stay for three or four years, developing them throughout their college careers, Wright wants one thing to be clear.
”I would like to get one-and-dones, but I just can’t get them to come,” he said, laughing, during the previous Big East Media Day.
The allure is obvious: high school players that already boast great talents and an even greater level of potential at the professional level. In today’s social media age, that buzz is magnified with a seemingly infinite cache of highlight tapes and an endless cycle of likes and retweets.
In 2017, over 100,000 people stayed up past midnight to watch a Facebook Live stream of Zion Williamson taking on LaVar Ball’s Big Baller Brand team in an AAU contest during the middle of July. Millions more later watched the full replay of the game.
Despite Villanova’s tendency to aim and bring in players that can grow over time, there was a moment where Wright recruited for high-profile, hyped one-and-done players. 2009 was a marquee moment for the Wildcats’ program. There was the iconic coast-to-coast buzzer-beating play by Scottie Reynolds to lift the ‘Cats into their first-ever Final Four since 1985, bringing every ounce of fanfare that came along with it.
Dana O’Neil’s Long Shots chronicled the difference between 2009 and Villanova’s eventual trip to the Final Four in 2016. It was a party. Pre-game dinners were banquets for everybody, families sat in on team meetings and film sessions. It was more of a “happy to be here” type of feeling than the business trip mentality of 2016 and 2018.
There was a deserved and expected rush and excitement that came with making the Final Four. It was Wright’s first rodeo. There were rallies, ESPN appearances, a feature in the NCAA Basketball 2010 video game, and numerous speaking engagements. Wright acted in a way he felt a Final Four coach should, and recruited in a way he thought they should too. The once elusive one-and-dones became attainable.
”It was easy to get ‘em, and we just took ‘em,” Wright said to the Washington Post, during the 2018 run. “We recruited them on the basis of just being pros, and then when they got here, we tried to talk to them about our family, our culture. They were kind of looking at us like, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t what I signed up for.’ And that was on me.”
Immediately after that 2009 run came Wright’s highest-ranked recruiting class at that point--which would later prove to be one of the most infamous.
Two McDonald’s All-Americans, Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, and then another five-star recruit in Mouphtaou Yarou. A four-star prospect, Isaiah Armwood, rounded off the recruiting class. The quartet was ranked as the No. 4-best class in the country, per 247 Sports.
The year after that, Wright brought in James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston in what was considered a lower-profile signing class.
Then, in 2011, ‘Nova brought in Darrun Hilliard, Tyrone Johnson, Markus Kennedy, and Achraf Yacoubou.
In the two seasons that followed the 2009 Final Four run, ‘Nova never made it past the second round. Then, in the 2011-12 season, Villanova had its worst season under Wright, finishing 13-19 overall. That team was led by Wayns and Cheek, both of whom left early to go pro after that year. Armwood, Johnson, Kennedy, and Yacoubou would bolt for greener pastures on other college campuses.
Amid the turbulence, there were some bright spots. Mouphtaou Yarou stayed all four years and later helped mentor Daniel Ochefu. Darrun Hilliard was the lowest-ranked prospect of that 2011 recruiting class, but he proved to be an instrumental player and eventually did what the others in his recruiting class couldn’t--get drafted to the NBA. James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston also stuck around to aid the turnaround.
Wright credits his wife, for calling him out, after 2009. As the ‘Cats faded away from the on-top-of-the-world feeling they had from the Final Four run, the grim reality became apparent to them. The results were clear on the court. While the one-and-done hype was there, it wasn’t particularly the right fit for Villanova.
In 2012, ‘Nova brought in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, then after that came Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds. We all know who eventually came and how the story goes, but what if Jay Wright didn’t change his recruiting style back to the one Villanova fans know today?
The answer might be simple--the ‘Cats don’t win the title and the downward spiral possibly continues. Maybe Wright is still around, maybe he isn’t, but there’s more to the championship equation than what a collection or pipeline of one-and-dones could solve.
The Villanova Wildcats have been fortunate to achieve a National Championship in 2016 and 2018. Neither of those trips were with the services of one-and-done players, although there were some early departures from Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman.
Even though Villanova won’t have a chance to defend its national title this weekend, there was further confirmation this past weekend: One-and-dones are nice to have, and their talent on the court is undeniable, but they aren’t everything to a championship recipe.
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari recently received a lifetime deal. While both Kentucky and Villanova share the same mascots, their approaches are very different. Villanova tends to see its players graduate and complete their full college careers, and Calipari relishes in being a NBA-ready factory. One-and-dones either thrive in the Big Blue machine and make the jump to the NBA, or get overlapped by incoming blue chip talents the following year.
Mike Krzyzewski had typically featured upperclassmen-laden rosters in his championship Duke Blue Devils teams in 1991, 1992, 2001, and 2010--with names like Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler headlining those title-winning squads.
Over the last few years, the Duke Blue Devils have leaned towards a model that is similar to Kentucky in regards to one-and-dones. Starting with Jabari Parker in the 2013-14 season, Duke started to become a team that predominantly features one-and-done stars.
This year, both teams received tremendous hype all throughout the college basketball season for the stars they have, especially Duke--who secured three of the top-five nationally ranked Class of 2018 recruits. Both Duke and Kentucky were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in last weekend’s Elite Eight games. However, this isn’t a one-and-done deal, this has been the pattern for a while.
To Calipari and Coach K’s credit, they have won one championship apiece with the freshman phenoms. Calipari did it in 2012, with the talents of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. After a disappointing early NCAA Tournament exit with Parker, Duke reloaded with multiple one-and-dones, bringing in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow to lead the Blue Devils to the title in 2015.
Duke hasn’t reached a title, or a Final Four since 2015, and along the way suffered a second round loss with a team that featured Jayson Tatum.
Kentucky’s been at the one-and-done game for longer than Duke. It reached a Final Four in 2015, a season that started 38-0. The year before that, Kentucky was runner-up, and that team had two one-and-dones--Julius Randle and James Young.
Villanova hasn’t had the flashy recruits, but its found a way to reach a high level of success since bouncing back from that 2011-12 season. Although it hasn’t received the same hype and buzz as some of the other powers that primarily boast and nab the one-and-dones—like Duke and Kentucky—the Wildcats and other recent champions show that freshmen phenoms aren’t the end all, be all.
Since the one-and-done rule was implemented for the 2006 NBA Draft, the 2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke teams are the only national championship squads led by multiple one-and-done players.
Duke and Kentucky might be the heavy favorites entering NCAA Tournaments, but one-and-dones don’t guarantee a title a majority of the time.
Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Skal Labissere, Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk, Shai Gilegous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Jarred Vanderbilt were all one-and-done stars at Duke or Kentucky that are cashing checks at the next level, but haven’t won an NCAA Tournament title or experience a Final Four.
Be ready to pencil in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Keldon Johnson, and Ashton Hagans.
Even though Villanova isn’t hoarding one-and-dones, don’t sweat it. Only two squads that predominantly featured them got to cut down the nets.
Since making the post-2009 recruiting adjustment, Wright has put the Round of 32 chatter to rest. He’s won the big one--twice. The “Villanova isn’t an NBA school” narrative took a twist last season, as the Wildcats saw a program record-number of NBA Draftees taken in the first round, as well as the entire draft.
As for the future, 10 years after the 2009 recruiting class, the Wildcats are preparing to bring in Wright’s highest-recruiting class ever. 247 Sports currently ranks the 2019 incoming quartet as the third-best in the country. Just as they did a decade ago, the Wildcats will be bringing in a class headlined by two McDonald’s All-Americans--Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine--as well as Eric Dixon and Justin Moore.
While it’s uncertain what they will bring to the Main Line, not only does the future look bright, but based on the other rewritten narratives and lessons learned--Wright is ready for this one.