A note to college coaches who don’t have a flood of one-and-dones signing with your programs: Copy and paste what Jay Wright is doing.
The Villanova Way made the Wildcats the kings of college basketball for the second time in three seasons and their head coach has provided the blueprint that will elevate the college game moving forward.
NBA lottery picks will always have their pick of programs and Wright had coached a few, but this group was built in a manner befitting old-school teams from yesteryear like North Carolina, Houston and Georgetown that would stay together for three or four years and make multiple title runs.
“When you look at the whole package, the experience is very rare in college basketball,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “They have shooters at every position and passers at every position. That team right there can win a lot of Final Fours, not just the 2018 one.”
Villanova 79, Michigan 62.
Wright’s 2016 championship team was good, but this one is better on both ends. The coach has mastered the ability to find program guys who stick around for more than one year in this era of one-and-dones. Team leader Jalen Brunson was a national top-20 recruit who told Wright during his recruiting visit that he wanted to get his college degree. He just completed his junior year along with buddies Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth, who advanced from role players as freshmen to leaders on this team.
Then there’s Donte DiVincenzo, the redshirt sophomore who was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. The Michael Jordan of Delaware played his second season in a backup role but showed a starter’s edge once he got his shot on the season’s biggest night — 31 points, a blocked dunk with two hands and a few highlight-reel dunks embodied what Wright has built, an unselfish locker room that’s embraced the idea of selfless play on both ends.
The Wildcats took everything Michigan could throw at them. Moe Wagner picked up where he left off against Loyola-Chicago with nine early points while Nova’s threes didn’t fall like they did against Kansas. But this team is resilient and oh so explosive. Nova turned a 21-14 deficit into a comfortable nine-point halftime lead.
Midway through the second half, Wagner was on lockdown and it was evident Michigan wouldn’t be able to stop that train.
If anything, Wright’s way of doing business in recruiting and talent evaluation is creating a wave for a college game that has become far too dependent on the huge names making a freshman pit stop before moving on to NBA millions.
Other coaches have gotten the message as well. Take a look at the 2018 Final Four field. There wasn’t a one-and-done lottery pick on any of these teams. Great players can reverse a program’s fortunes, but experience is better for long-term viability and success than lightning in a bottle.
Nova has become the current gold standard.
“I just think it starts with coach Wright and his mentality of recruiting,” Brunson said. “He recruits great young men, not just on the basketball court, but in the classroom and obviously as a person. We’re very intelligent on and off the floor. And I think that’s a credit to just making sure he gets the right people for this program. Not everyone is fit for it.”
Wright and his staff have a working chart that goes three years into the future with movable player parts depending on how that person is playing at the time. For instance, before the tournament, DiVincenzo was listed among those who were coming back for another year without question, but now he has to be considered a possible draftee. Rest assured, Wright will come up with another program guy to take his place.
Better yet, the coach doesn’t appear interested in taking his act to he pros, which helps in the area of cohesiveness in recruiting.
“I just have the best job in the country,” Wright said. “My hometown, my wife’s alma mater, my favorite team growing up. I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great kids to coach. As a coach, there’s just nothing better.”
When you have the right coach and the right mix of players committed to a certain style of ball — and Nova, which hit a tourney record 76 three-pointers, is college basketball’s version of the Golden State Warriors — you will get games that aren’t always drama-filled. While the three women’s Final Four games were all hotly contested, Villanova blew out both opponents and won each of its six tournament games by double digits.
Wright has this thing going. He built a winner years ago and now the system is in place to win for years to come.