Jay Wright had reached the pinnacle of college hoops twice, guiding the Villanova Wildcats to national championships in 2016 and 2018.
Now, he’s going even higher.
He’s set to be in basketball pantheon alongside the greats and legends of the sport as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wright was elected alongside 15 others as part of the Class of 2021, a group that also includes Rick Adelman, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell, Ben Wallace, Chris Webber, Yolanda Griffith, Lauren Jackson, Val Ackerman, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Howard Garfinkel, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, Tuni Kukoc, Bob Dandridge, and Pearl Moore.
“I definitely do not feel like a Hall of Famer; I’m not sure what that’s supposed to feel like to be honest, but I think it’s overwhelming,” Wright said. “Being there today, in a room with Kevin Garnett, Bill Russell, Chris Webber, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Val Ackerman — you’re overwhelmed. It’s just incredible that you’re there. You love basketball and all the people in the game, and you’re hanging with them on their level. It’s very humbling.”
He got the call to the Hall last Wednesday, but even as the news was officially announced on Sunday, it’s still sinking in.
“No, not really, but it’s seeping in,” Wright said when asked if he’s processed his latest accomplishment. “Going into this weekend, answering these questions, other people knowing, and just feeling the love and heartfelt congratulations, it’s starting to seep in. I’m think that it’s gonna take some gradual time.”
Maybe he will by the time enshrinement festivities begin on Friday, Sept. 10, with the official ceremony set to take place on Saturday, Sept. 11.
“I honestly never computed what it was to be a Hall of Fame coach, I just looked at guys like Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Riley, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, John Cheney,” Wright said. “There were never any numbers to it in my mind, it was just the prominence of their impact. I always counted Rollie Massimino that way too. I never really thought of the numbers, so I never knew when they decide that you’re in.
“When I first got named as a finalist, I think it was last year, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is real.’ This is a whole other level when you get picked. Just being picked as a finalist was kind of stunning in itself.”
While Wright never really looked at the numbers, the ones on his resume are pretty good.
Throughout his 27-year coaching career split between Villanova and Hofstra, he’s amassed 612 victories, including 490 with the Wildcats.
He won two national championships, went to three Final Fours, and won a combined 12 Big East regular season and tournament titles. At Hofstra, he also won back-to-back America East regular season and tournament championships in 2000-01.
He was named the Naismith National Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2016, and was also the Associated Press’ Coach of the Decade.
Despite all that he had achieved individually, he defers the credit to all of those around him.
“Thinking about it today, all of the texts from all those players, you just realize how important each one of them was,” Wright said. “You realize that it took the total sum of all of those guys to make this happen. Every one of them, from walk-ons, managers, Hofstra, they were all a part of it. Everybody from our secretary ... They’re all very important in this journey.”
He also appreciates his coaches, the ones who assisted him and the ones he played for, from the earliest days of his basketball career as a child, to varsity high school coach, and then his time at Bucknell.
Wright also thanked his mentor, Rollie Massimino.
“I know he’s smiling down from heaven,” he said. “As a coach and a mentor, I think he might’ve taken the most pride in all of his assistants that became head coaches, the kind of men his players became. This is what he lived for, teaching young guys, giving them an opportunity, and teach them how to be their best. I think those accomplishments of his assistants and his players made him more proud than winning games, so I know he’s having a glass of red wine in heaven.”
Massimino, who has previously been a finalist, has not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I still think there’s gonna be a path for Coach Mass,” Wright said. “They have a veterans committee. I think he’s deserving, and I think there’s gonna be a path.”
Until that enshrinement day comes, Wright will stay busy on the recruiting trail, think about possible presenters for his big day, and reflect on his entire basketball journey.
“None of this happens if I’m not the coach at Villanova,” Wright said. “This is as much of the coach of Villanova going to the Hall of Fame. Everybody’s been successful here. There’s no coaches that haven’t been successful here, it’s the best. I think my decision (to go to Villanova) showed this is the best place to coach in college basketball in the country. I think it was God’s plan for me to be the coach here. I’m just blessed that he put me on this journey and all the people he put in my life, I definitely look at it that way and I definitely have reflected on that.”