When it comes to the subject of college basketball “royalty”, the most commonly named schools one may reference would probably consist of North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke…perhaps UCLA if it was 1972…the point is, Villanova would more than likely be further down on the list, if it was on the list at all. This is no longer the case. There is no more doubting the head coach. No more doubting the system or the culture or the core values in which they believe and religiously adhere to. There is no more doubting Villanova basketball.
By winning their second national championship in three years after overpowering the Michigan Wolverines on April 2nd at the Alamodome, the Villanova Wildcats have become the gold-standard in the college basketball world. They are the preeminent program in the country, and head coach Jay Wright has no intention of shutting down his well-oiled machine anytime soon. The Villanova Wildcats have indeed reached “royalty” status.
After cutting down the nets in 2016, more than a few doubters lingered, wondering if the title won on a buzzer-beater was more a fluke than a system of substance. Their performance during the 2017 season, however, from November through the title game on April 2nd, silenced the naysayers.
The Wildcats ran roughshod over the NCAA Tournament field, defeating each opponent that stood in their way by double-digits. They became the eighth program in the history of college basketball to win two titles in three years, and the first since the Florida Gators went back-to-back a decade ago. Jay Wright is now part of an elite fraternity of coaches with multiple NCAA championships that includes Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, UCLA’s John Wooden, North Carolina’s Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. You could say worse company could be had.
“Right now, he’s the best, point blank,’’ said Josh Hart, who starred on that 2016 team and is now with the Lakers. “That’s no knock on anybody, but when you have [schools] that consistently get top-five recruits, you’re going to be good. You’re going to win 25-30 games when you get the best players in the country. I can coach them. To take guys who aren’t highly recruited, develop them, make them better and win national championships, conference championships and conference tourney championships, it speaks for itself. He’s flat out the best coach right now in the country.’’ *
Six years ago, after a nightmarish 2012 season in which the Wildcats managed just 13 wins, Jay Wright felt as though his program was at a crossroads. Something wasn’t working, and he needed to figure out a solution quickly. Wright and his staff recommitted themselves to recruiting players who wanted to become stars instead of players who already believed they were stars. Quite simply, they set their sights on high school kids who they felt had the desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves; the desire to be part of a program.
Fast forward to today, and that program has won 136 games since the beginning of the 2014 season, the most ever by any Division-I team over a four-year span.
A harmonious blend of both system and culture, Jay Wright and his staff didn’t revolutionize basketball with sophisticated X’s and O’s or an assertion that shooters must keep shooting regardless of the results. Instead, they just stocked and restocked the roster with the best possible student-athletes who conformed with their vision and allowed them to maximize their approach.
Since 2012, just three of Villanova’s recruits were ranked within the top 50 according to ESPN. Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman. Players such as Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth and Daniel Ochefu were not as highly sought-after, but Wright and his staff were able to identify them as the ideal prospects who fit into their approach, coaching and developing them into premier Division-I players. Not one of these recruits left the program via transfer, and certainly didn’t leave early for the NBA. They stayed and immersed themselves in the culture of Villanova basketball, allowing Wright and his staff to mold them into national championship players.
[*Quote from Josh Hart excerpted from “It’s Nova’s Nation: With their second title in three years, Wildcats prove they’re the preeminent program in the land” by The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil – link]