Jay Wright hasn’t had the time this past week to reflect on his achievements in his 21 seasons as the head coach of Villanova men’s basketball. His retirement from him, announced Wednesday night, could n’t stop him and his wife from him, Patty, from ensuring there would be a smooth transition for his players, his coaching staff and his successor from him, former Wildcats assistant Kyle Neptune.
“As soon as we make sure everything’s in place, I think that will be a nice time to sit down on a beach sometime and look back on this,” he said Friday at his news conference.
However, that won’t stop anyone else from looking at his record right now, and what a record: two NCAA championships, four trips to the Final Four, five Big East Tournament titles in the last seven years, five 30-win seasons in the last eight years, six conference coach of the year honors, all of which earned him entry last September into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The key to his success? To listen to his longtime friend and Big 5 rival, Phil Martelli, it comes down to one word.
“I think the beauty in Jay’s approach and successes was in its simplicity,” Martelli said Friday. “I never got confused. For Jay, and I’ve had conversations with him about this where, if it did not impact his team of him and it did not impact his family of him, that he left it alone.
“I think a lot of other coaches, myself included, you end up doing all of these things, you want to be everything to everybody. Jay made it very simple and I think that transferred over to the way they played, and then that transferred over to the way they recruited.
“The simplicity with Jay was, the way he lived his life, I think the beautiful way he incorporated his family, especially his wife. On the court, every player shot-faked, every player jump-stopped, every player switched, every player fronted the post. I’m not saying it was a simple way to teach but it was simplicity. He knew what he valued and he taught that.”
Ryan Arcidiacono, the lead guard on the Wildcats’ 2016 national champions, said one of the starting points for the team’s run began with the recruiting of the guards who led the team to success in the mid 2000s – Allan Ray and Randy Foye, followed by Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi.
“They really laid the foundation of what coach Wright envisioned Villanova basketball players to be,” Arcidiacono said. “From then on, I think he just got players, even with a couple of down years, who fit the mold of what he envisioned. We just took it from there and passed it along to the next guys.
“Coach Wright remained true to his roots and the characteristics of the players he wanted and people that he wanted. He wasn’t going to sway. He wanted what he wanted and he stuck true to his culture beliefs and he went from there, and we saw how successful he was.
And the players who have been coached by Wright don’t soon forget the lessons learned off the basketball court.
“His impact on me personally is something that’s extremely hard to describe,” said Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a fifth-year senior who was hampered by injuries his final two seasons. “He’s changed my life. Ever since high school, I remember getting recruited and noticing him at my games and wanting to play harder knowing that he was there.
“Coach Wright has meant so much to me in my life. As a player he helped me change and helped me grow into the man I am today. It’s how he treats us as people. He pushes us to be better men and that translates over into the basketball portion.”
Wright’s influence on college basketball over his 21 seasons has had an impact on three levels. Even though the Wildcats have dominated the Big 5 posting a 33-1 record going back to 2012-13, Wright remained a vocal supporter of keeping the city tradition alive and insisted the contests are good preparation for conference play.
Villanova has been the dominant program in the Big East since the reorganization of the conference starting with the 2013-14 season, winning the regular-season championship outright six times and sharing it once. The two years the Cats didn’t win the regular season, they captured the tournament trophy, including last month.
“Without question, the ‘new’ Big East would not be where it is today without Jay and Villanova leading the way,” conference commissioner Val Ackerman said in a statement. “We have had no better ambassador over the past nine years, and we’re eternally grateful for Jay’s guidance as we’ve sought to preserve our proud history and maintain our success during the modern era.”
And from a national perspective, the Wildcats were always in the conversation for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Since beginning play in its 2016 tournament run, Villanova owns a 20-4 record. Wright leaves the program with a 34-14 mark in March Madness play.
It’s not just the wins and losses, however. It’s the way Wright has conducted himself after a win or a loss in every situation, sending congratulatory tweets to his opponent after the game.
“On the national scene, people want to make comments about everything,” Martelli said. “With Jay, not one person has ever come up to me and said, ‘Jay Wright, who does he think …’ It was always, ‘Is he as good a dude as I think?’ So I think to come out unscathed in this world, in this profession, on the national scene, that’s Jay the professional.”
“He represents the good in college basketball,” he said. “He was truly authentic and gracious in the losses and humble in the wins with his tweets and his comments from him. He led by example and I think a lot of programs around the country would view him as one of the top five coaches in the game consistently, both on and off the court.”
Jay Wright’s not going to take that poll, not now, maybe not ever. There’s still his office of him at the Davis Center that needs to be packed up, and helping Neptune get moved in.
There’s also no time to consider his legacy, a subject that began Friday with his comment, “I swear, I really don’t care,” and then almost brought him to tears for a brief moment.
“Maybe it’s because you [reporters] have been good,” he said. “It’s not like anybody’s killed me here and I know I’m not perfect. So if you show some of my weaknesses, good. You guys have been good about what we’ve done. It doesn’t affect me either way.
“I kind of like sometimes when somebody picks me apart, ‘Yeah, you didn’t do that well,’ because it’s worse when somebody treats you like you’re this god, when you know you’re not. So when somebody picks out something, ‘They’re having a tough time getting the ball inbounds.’ Well, yeah, we are and we’ve got to get better at that. I kind of like that.”