Nothing seems to go as perfectly planned during this crazy year.
Not even Jermaine Samuels and Collin Gillespie’s plan to announce their return for the 2021-22 season, together, at the same time.
“We definitely had plenty of conversations about it, and we were supposed to (announce) it at the same time, but then I got distracted by a text message,” Jermaine Samuels said, laughing. “I was like, three minutes late, but we were supposed to do it at the same time.”
Their tweets were minutes apart, but the message was loud and clear: they’re running it back.
The two seniors weighed their options between taking the jump for the next level and turning pro, or accept the NCAA’s offer of a bonus year of eligibility to return next season.
They opted for the latter.
“After the season, we both gave it a couple of days, and I went to him and started talking to him to see how he felt,” Samuels said. “We just kept the conversation mainly between us and the people in our circle — his circle and my circle — and we just weighed out all the pros and cons, and kept it very objective.
“At first, it sounded like he was still on the fence. I kind of knew that I was on the same boat as him, but the way he was saying it was still like he was on the fence. Once he said, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about coming back,’ I was like, alright it’s all set. It’s written then.”
Their return already has Villanova fans thinking “what if?” and conference rivals thinking, “oh, c’mon,” just as they were ready to envision life without two key Wildcats that had seemingly been there forever. Now, it’ll be forever-ever.
With the way that Villanova went toe-to-toe against eventual national champion Baylor, without Gillespie, it’s easy to get excited for the team’s prospects next season, especially when two experienced players are coming back.
Barring any injuries and a return to a normal, full college basketball season, both players would be on pace to surpass Phil Booth’s record of 145 games played in a Villanova jersey. Gillespie (118 games) has a slight edge over Samuels (115). That’s plenty of experience to lead the way next season.
However, Gillespie was quick to downplay any championship and Final Four expectations.
“Obviously, having guys that are experienced in the program and playing with these guys for two years now was something that was intriguing, but it’s not something that we ever talk about going into a season,” Gillespie said. “We never talk about winning championships, it’s always about just becoming the best Villanova basketball team we could be by the end of the season. I think these guys did an amazing job of just finishing out the stretch of the year after I went down. They did an incredible job.”
For Samuels, he thought about going pro, but felt happiest at ‘Nova and that the next chapter of his career can wait another year.
He’s coming off of a career season, after averaging 12.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, shot 48.1% overall, and held a 37.1% clip from long range — all career-highs.
“I had conversations with coach and also my family, and other people in the basketball world, and I felt like you only get one chance in your life to be around people who genuinely love you,” he said. “Play for something that really matters that’s just bigger than yourself. I’ll have the rest of my life to hopefully play at a professional level, but you only get one chance to really bask in the college atmosphere and be around people that really mean a lot.”
While they planned to announce their return together, they ultimately made their decisions separately. Sure, they discussed it with one another, but Gillespie had much more to mull over.
He admits that he had no intentions of using the bonus year of eligibility and was ready for the next step, but the MCL injury threw his plans off.
“I think I was ready, if I wasn’t injured, to make that leap to the next level,” Gillespie said. “But, obviously, getting injured puts everything in perspective. Although I feel I was ready for it, obviously, I want myself to have the best opportunity and chance to play at the next level. Me coming back and getting healthy was important, and just having another year at school to mature and grow as a person and player was also really important.”
It didn’t take long for him to have an inkling that he would come back.
“The day after my surgery,” Gillespie said of the moment he knew he would return. “It was brutal because I was in so much pain, and I thought there’s no way. I also didn’t know anything about the NBA Draft process, when the draft would be and when the workouts would be. This is home for me. I’ve never left the city of Philadelphia really, so this is where I’m comfortable, this is home for me. ... So, I thought about it right away. Even after the injury, I thought about it, but I would say right after my surgery and just talking to my parents and Coach Wright, I knew it was probably what was best for me.”
Gillespie, a co-Big East Player of the Year, averaged 14.0 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per game last season.
According to Gillespie, he’s playing it safe with his injury and isn’t rushing back to basketball activities.
“I know it’s a serious injury, but I think what the doctors are saying is by the end of June is when I’ll be 100%,” he said. “Right now, just trying to progress every day as best as I can.”
Now that Samuels and Gillespie have made their decision, that leaves Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, but Wright doesn’t think he’ll be in a position to make a decision until later in August. He’s still recovering and rehabbing from leg surgery.
“We kind of figured this will be the last year for Jeremiah, but I would have never thought we’d get Collin and Jermaine back before they made this rule,” Wright said. “I think that’s part of the reason we lost Cole (Swider), because those guys were coming back. That’s probably the loss we had out of this, was Cole, which is said to me, but if you look at it all, I think we came out pretty fortunate.”
It’ll be an abundance of depth for Wright to work with next year, with Gillespie and Samuels back in the fold. They’ll reprise their roles as full-time starters with Justin Moore. So far, Brandon Slater, Caleb Daniels, Bryan Antoine, Chris Arcidiacono, Eric Dixon, and Trey Patterson are all set to return. They’ll also have incoming freshmen Jordan Longino, Angelo Brizzi, and Nnanna Njoku.
Although there are some question marks in the frontcourt and how he’ll distribute minutes, Wright is looking forward to making the puzzle pieces fit.
“We’re gonna have some depth for the first time in a while, and we won’t have to develop,” Wright said. “I think it’s there, and that’s going to be exciting. We’re looking forward to it. That’s a good challenge to have.”