Jay Wright has a warning for Villanova basketball fans, still basking in the Wildcats’ improbable run to the NCAA championship: Ready or not the Main Line version of “The Hangover“ is about to begin.
“After the tournament I talked to a number of people like Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun; a number of who’d won championships,” said Wright, whose team — missing departed Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu—gets its season underway Friday at the Pavilion vs. Lafayette. “Just to get an idea of what we’re in store for and how to handle the next season.
“Everybody mentioned in some way there is a hangover, no matter what you do. Maybe you can get over it. Maybe you can’t. But everyone addressed the fact it lingers into your next season and you have to deal with it.
“We have a lot of challenges this year within our team. That’s gonna be one of the challenges outside our team.”
But just as they’ve always — after all those frustrating early tournament exits — said there was nothing they do about that until March Madness got underway, they know the same applies to defending their crown. “
This is nothing new to us,” said leading scorer (15.3 ppg) and All America candidate Josh Hart, who along with championship game hero Kris Jenkins (13.6) and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson (9.6) will lead the way. “We won the Big East championship a few years in a row where we had a target on our back.
“So we know other teams are gonna give us their best shot and we’re gonna be ready for it.”
Brimming with confidence the Cats — with Darryl Reynolds taking over for Ochefu and either Phil Booth or Mikal Bridges moving into Arcidiacono’s spot — again will be the team to beat in the Big East. But will that be enough?
After all when you’ve been to the mountain top, isn’tanything less that reaching the summit again a failure?
“We never judge ourselves off winning and losing,” replied Jenkins, who became an instant celebrity this off-season, even frequently being recognized in rest rooms. “We judge ourselves over whether we play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Play hard, smart and together. Defend, rebound and execute
“Obviously, we on the championship last year, but that doesn’t define us.”
It never has with Wright.
“It’s real simple,” added Wright, who says one of his most cherished memories was the five minutes he spent waiting in the wings talking hoops with President Obama while his team was touring the White House. “If we can come out every night and play Villanova basketball for each other we’re successful.
“The last couple of years we were doing it. We just got beat in some (tournament) games. You judge yourselves based on your own core values, but you know you get judged from outside differently and have to accept that.”
With that Hart/Jenkins/Brunson nucleus that accounted for 39.1 combined points including a 204 3-pointers the Wildcats figure to again among the elite, ranked No. 4 in the pre-season. Add to that Booth, who erupted for a career-high 20 points in the title game vs. North Carolina, defensive-minded Reynolds and the versatile Bridges, plus skilled newcomers like 6-foot-7 Eric Paschall, 6-foot-10 Dylan Painter and redshirt freshman Dante DiVicenzo and Tim Delaney, both coming off injuries and it’s clear Wright has plenty of weapons in his arsenal.
Now it’s finally time to turn them loose.
“I’m ready to go,” said Wright, entering his 16th season needing 24 wins to reach the 500 mark for his career — including seven years at Hofstra — “It’s the busiest off-season we’ve ever had and we’ll monitor it.
“But going through those three weeks was as thrilling as it gets. Having fund, being inspired by the competition, it was everything you dreamed it could be.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of doing it again.”
Because who knows? Maybe the Main Line version of “The Hangover” will lead to a sequel.