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Villanova Media Day 2022 Notebook: Neptune settles in, player updates, Longino breakout year?

Catching up with the ‘Cats after a long, eventful offseason.

Army v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Villanova, Pa – On Wednesday evening, the Villanova Wildcats hosted their annual media day – the first in-person one since COVID-19, so it was very good to be back. A special thank you to Assistant AD and team SID Mike Sheridan and all the staff that put together a wonderful evening for the media and the players.

Before we begin and dive into all the exciting developments out of the Finneran Pavilion, I would like to take a moment to briefly introduce myself while I have you here. My name is Tommy Godin and I was formerly a writer with Big East Coast Bias before it was shuttered. Now, I have found my home with VU Hoops and could not be more excited. I grew up a Villanova basketball fan my whole life and it is a dream come true to work for this media outlet. Thank you so much for tuning into my debut article and let’s get into it.

The Man of the Hour, Mr. Jordan Longino

Senior veterans Caleb Daniels and Brandon Slater are set to lead and once Justin Moore returns, there’s no doubt he’ll be at the top of everyone’s scouting reports.

There’s plenty of understandable buzz around the freshmen class of Cam Whitmore, Mark Armstrong and Brendan Hausen, but which returning Wildcat is ready for a breakout year?

After a busy and productive offseason, there’s one player that comes to everyone’s mind when polling different players.

“Jordan Longino. For sure,” Njoku said. “I feel like he’s done so much in the offseason. He’s just honed his game in. He knows how to get to spots. He knows how to get a shot, he hits all his shots. He’s just a hell of a player.”

Towards the end of the 2021-22 season, Longino was just beginning to establish himself as a prominent role player as a true freshman, which was a complement itself, especially being able to crack Jay Wright’s rotation later in the season – and we all know how much he loves his seniors and veteran players.

Longino credits his success towards the end of the year to the leadership exhibited by Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels.

“I am just trying to play Villanova basketball and be the best player I can be,” said Longino, who would not help but bear a grin when he found out all the nice things his teammates had to say about him earlier. “Right now, I’m feeling healthy, ready to go. I’ve been practicing full time for the past month, feeling good. Still trying to get in sync and back in full game shape, but feeling healthy.”

Longino is coming off of knee surgery but added that he will be ‘ready to go when the season starts’. As Jon Rothstein would say, buy stock now.

New Face, Same Style?

Obviously, the biggest news in the offseason was the retirement of hall of fame head coach Jay Wright. Wednesday was one of the first days media had access to the players since the news broke and everyone seemed to be gauging the feelings in the building towards the passing of the torch.

Much like the nearly-unanimous Jordan Longino breakout answer, every player had the same thoughts and feelings towards the regime change, especially as they’ve gotten a few months to adjust.

“It’s basically like he has already been here,” Slater said. “He basically does the exact same things as Coach Wright, it is just a different face. It is pretty much the same style, same understanding of the game, same game. They are different coaches in their own way but both are amazing.”

Neptune first came to Villanova in 2008 for a two-year stint as a video coordinator. After moving to Niagara for his first assistant coaching job from 2010-13, he returned and spent eight years as an assistant at Villanova and was a part of both national championship runs, before taking the helm at Fordham for the 2021-22 season.

He had immediate success in his first ever year as a head coach, going 16-16 with a program that hadn’t matched that mark in nearly 15 years. During that time, there were four different head coaches before him. He also won on the recruiting trail, getting four-star prospect Will Richardson — the highest-rated commit at Fordham in more than a decade.

Now that he’s back, he views himself as a torch bearer looking to continue the culture that’s already been long established.

“I came here as a 24-year old young coach and I basically grew up here as a man, at Villanova, for over 10 years of my life, so much of what I know is based off me being here,” Neptune said. “Our top assistant’s been here for 15 years, our next guy has been here 12 years, the next guy for nine years. Support staff’s been here for 14 years and strength trainer’s been here for eight years. There’s a lot of carryover from previous staffs, so we’re doing a lot of the same things and we’re hoping to get a lot of the same results.”

It also helps that he’s familiar with plenty of the ‘Cats and had personally recruited most of them before he left to go to Fordham for a year.

“I feel like there is not really much of a difference,” sophomore forward Trey Patterson said. “Even though the coach has changed, our system and our values are still intact. I still feel like, you know, everyone is pretty much locked in on how to play Villanova basketball and what we need to do to be successful as a team.”

Neptune wants to follow in Wright’s footsteps, but he teased a couple of tweaks he may make.

“One thing I do think we’ll try to do is get up and down more this year,” Neptune said. “I think we have the personnel for it. Trying to get out in the open court a little bit more.”

And while Wright had been known for tighter, veteran-heavy rotations, Neptune will potentially look to go deep.

“We got a chance to go much deeper,” Neptune said. “I think for years and years we’ve had a marquee guy, leading scorer come back to start the year. This is the first year it’s not like Collin Gillespie is coming back as a first-team all-Big East guy, or a Ryan Arcidiacono or Josh Hart. We don’t have a guy like that right now, we have really, really talented players.

“A lot of guys are either coming into a new role or starting college and are really talented, or guys who have been in big time situations and seen it, and are now trying to find their way. We have a process that we have to go through and we’ll see where we are coming up with our scrimmages and our games. … I don’t think right now any of our guys have completely separated themselves.”

Keepin’ up with the ‘Cats

It has been a long time since we have had Villanova basketball on our TV and you have probably been wondering what your favorite Wildcats have been up to over the summer. Don’t worry, I got you covered with some quick hits:

  • Eric Dixon started to make some timely threes to help Villanova advance in tournament play. Could we see more of that this season? He says he didn’t do anything too different with his offseason prep: “I put a couple more hundred shots a day, but it wasn’t anything crazy,” Dixon said. “Maybe some more work on ball handling and decision making, but outside of that, nothing too different.”
  • Angelo Brizzi, who’s ready for a bigger role after redshirting, says he spent a lot of time working on the mental aspect of the game: “The biggest thing for me was coming into practice each and every day and having no days where I said I wasn’t bringing energy and I wasn’t playing hard. That was the biggest thing for me.”
  • After his best season yet, Slater is embracing the leadership role: “It’s definitely a role I gotta grow into because when I first go here, that wasn’t my role. Being a leader wasn’t in me, and I have built into that role and it’s something that I’m trying to get better at. My coaches have been helping, and my teammates too. I’ve been fortunate to have guys like Phil Booth, Eric Paschall. I’ve had Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and guys like that, then the guys before me — Daniel Ochefu, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson — all those guys talk to me and tell me how important it is to be a leader for a team like this.”
  • Per Neptune, he doesn’t have an exact return date or time table for Moore’s return, but things are going well with his recovery: “He looks great, he’s on the road to recovery. I don’t think he’s close yet, but he’s dribbling, he’s out there, working out. It’s really up to doctors to see where he’s at. Eye test – he looks fine to me, but no date in mind.”
  • Moore is staying upbeat and says he “feels really good” and can’t wait to be out there with his teammates. He’s had devastating injuries before, like when he tore his ACL in high school, and where he draws inspiration: It’s ingrained in me. I know things aren’t gonna be easy. I know God has a plan for me and he gives his toughest battles to his toughest people. He wants me to go out and come back better than ever .. So I want to prove that to myself, to my family and to God.”

Starting Five???

Neptune was noncommittal when asked if he had a starting five prepared for the upcoming season. We have to assume that Brandon Slater, Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon are shoe-ins for three of the starting five spots, so let’s take a pulse of the Nova Nation. Sound off in the comments section for who you would choose to fill out the starting five until Moore returns.

For me, it is Longino and Whitmore, but there are so many good options you can’t go wrong, so let me know!