Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jay Wright & the Villanova Wildcats...

Great article on Jay Wright, coach of the Villanova Wildcats basketball program:

From 1989-2004, Villanova never made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats were in the field six times. They won three games, against Princeton, Portland and Long Island.

In the last 4 years they've made it to two Sweet 16s and a Final Eight. All three times they've lost to the eventual national champion. Now they're favored to get to the third round once again.

So how much more does anyone really need to know about the Jay Wright era?

The third-seeded Wildcats (26-7) will play No. 14 American (24-7), your Patriot League champion, in a first-round NCAA East Regional game Thursday night at the Wachovia Center. This 'Nova team was supposed to be good. Yet few, including the coach, figured it would be this good. Which means nil once the Madness gets going. It's the same group that narrowly made the field last March before winning twice as a 12 seed. It can happen, both ways.

Wright insists his four seniors, who weren't the most heralded recruiting class to grace the Main Line, are the reason for this season's success. They'll tell you that it all stems from his lead.

Maybe they're both right. There's obviously a connection that goes above and beyond. Even when Wright gets in somebody's mug, which only happens about every other timeout. Or perhaps it works because he does.

"He can get into you a little bit," said one of those fourth-year guys, Dwayne Anderson, the team's emotional center. "But it's all for the good. He gave [the upperclassmen] ownership, so we can try and get the message across instead of having him yell all the time. In huddles, we're not as animated.

"When he says something, you really believe it. He tells it like it is, even if it's not what you want to hear. Whatever he feels you need to do. His No. 1 goal is for you to be a great man. Then you can be a great player.

"Once you realize he only wants you to get better, you can get past all [the battles]. When you're young, you're not used to that. In high school, they pretty much let you do anything you want. There's no one to answer to. Here, he's the boss. You have to take his game plan and fit your game in that. He takes a lot of pride in playing for all the guys that came before."

It's tough love, from someone who gets it.

"It's not always pretty," Wright explained. "But I hope they understand we really care about them. We don't pump them up, make them think they're something that they're not. We try to be very realistic. I think in the long run, they appreciate that. But some struggle with it. Their buds are telling them they should be in the NBA, you're telling them all the areas they have to improve.

"One thing we always say is, 'The greatest gift we can give you is the truth.' I think kids, deep down inside, want to be coached. Sometimes, it doesn't work. It's not always perfect. I think we have good relationships, but not the type of relationship everybody thinks it is."

From across town, Temple coach Fran Dunphy sees the finished product. And as someone who usually gets the most out of his guys, he admires the craftsmanship.

"I think there is something special about [Wright's] goodness," Dunphy emphasized. "He carries that through, in everything he does. He's great with people. I'm sure he chews them out when he needs to. But at the end of it, he's ready to give them a hug. That's a critical piece to those kids knowing he has their best interests at heart. This is serious stuff. It doesn't come easy. There's a price we all have to pay, to play at such a high level of basketball. A lot of what they're doing goes right to the genuine quality of his person.

"When they were giving out that stuff, he for whatever reason got the whole package. He has a plan, and sticks with it. He's got a terrific product to sell, and he's doing his all to sell it."

Even if that passion is often an acquired taste.

"It can get intense," said junior guard Scottie Reynolds, speaking from experience. "He's really saying, 'How are you going to respond?' Not just in basketball, but in the real world. A lot of things in life are going to be way worse than what happens in games.

"When he battles you, he's just trying to get us to the next level. That's why you're a competitor. His voice definitely gets us going. I remember my freshman year, we got into it. Afterward he said, 'I love that.' But I can't do that during a game. It's bad for him and me, and our program. But it's good to have that fire, to go out and show him something.

"He'll point at you, and you know what's coming. But there's no denying that he's right in what he's saying, before he ever says it. I know what I just did. So you have to take a step back and get prepared for it. If you can't overcome that, you're going to have a rough time in life."

So, how are you going to fill out your NCAA pool?


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