Villanova coach Jay Wright spoke to the Metro about his team’s upcoming summer trip to Paris and Amsterdam (August 7-17), perspective on the Wildcats’ second straight late season collapse and why he wants to stay on the Main Line as long as possible.
Metro: What is the advantage of having a trip like this in the summer and who is allowed to go?
Jay Wright: We’ve got four guys in our program who have two years college basketball experience and everybody else less than that, or a rookie, so this is really good for us. It’s giving us an opportunity to evaluate our guys playing against other people. All of our returning players, and our freshmen, are able to go because they came for summer school.
When you get this opportunity you always take advantage of it because it’s great culturally for your kids, great bonding and you also get 10 days of practice before you go, which you wouldn’t be able to do in summer. Losing three seniors and having no seniors on the team, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Metro: What kind of competition will you be facing in Euro Jam 2011 and how will you be able to gauge success?
Jay Wright: We’re playing against the Israeli, Dutch and Georgian national teams, some of whom have NBA-level players. I don’t know how good these teams are, so we’re not going to judge ourselves on wins and losses. If we can come out of this with solid leadership and go-to guys from our junior class, and if we can get our freshmen enough playing time so we can see where their roles will fit in, I think it will be a successful trip.
Metro: Having a young team with no seniors and counting on freshmen and sophomores to play key roles, do you have to change your system?
Jay Wright: We never change the system, but we always adapt to our personnel. That’s why this is so important for us. We can throw these guys into the system, see what they can do and learn where we have to adapt. Usually you play a scrimmage and then it takes 3-4 games in-season to see how guys fit in.
Metro: With Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena gone, are your key juniors —guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, and center Mouphtaou Yarou — ready to step up?
Jay Wright: That’s the other part of this trip that’s great. Those juniors are going to have to play like seniors this year. They’re getting the responsibility, too … of being leaders, being go-to guys. We get to do this before the season starts, so we’re going to be able to evaluate.
Metro: Besides the juniors, who are some other players you expect to contribute this season?
Jay Wright: James Bell’s injury [stress fractures] really did set him back last year. But he just played for Team USA’s under-19 team in Latvia and did well. JayVaughn Pinkston [who sat out last year due to a school code of conduct violation] is in summer school now and fully eligible. We’ll get to see if he is more than a freshman or a just a freshman, which would be really helpful for us. Darrun Hilliard is another one who’ll get a chance to play, but Tyrone Johnson broke his foot. He’ll be on the trip, but can’t play, which will allow us to play Hilliard and Pinkston at the backup point spot behind Wayns.
Metro: Four months since seeing your season end with six straight losses, do you have a different perspective of what went wrong?
Jay Wright: I think everybody here has learned his lessons and moved on. It’s not something we have to rehash. I realized when we were winning a lot we were not defending at a level we needed to on the road against tougher teams. We were outscoring people. As a staff we were trying to get that point across, but as a young team we didn’t accept the responsibility. It’s not just about winning, but about how we play. Now I can see they kind of have an understanding.
Metro: What is your attraction to Villanova and did you ever seriously consider going after the Sixers’ coaching job?
Jay Wright: I really love this job. I want to be coach of Villanova for a long, long time. But I understand it’s not always my choice. Things happen. But I love this job. I love the educational part of this. Last year was a great example. When the sting of that season hits at the end, it takes some time to get over it. But there’s also another part of your job you enjoy … going through Senior Week with those guys, seeing them graduate, having our banquet, the picnic at my house. Other people don’t get to see that, but you enjoy it.
I knew that when I got into college coaching, but over the years I’ve really learned to appreciate it.