There probably weren’t any future Jimmy Butlers or Joakim Noahs on the court Wednesday when No. 6Villanova used an early first half run and a late second half run to dispose of Marquette 83-68 to solidify its hold on first place in the Big East.
That’s not to say some of Jay Wright’s 15-2 Wildcats won’t someday make it to the NBA (and perhaps a Golden Eagle or two will join them there).
But none of them figure to be the kind of impact players as former Marquette star Butler, now the No. 12 scorer in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls or his teammate Noah. On this night they were in town watching the action from the front row, taking a break from the NBA grind which brought them to town in the first place, before going back to work against the Sixers Thursday.
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At the same time they couldn’t help but think back to their own playing days in school.
"My college experience was the best time in my life,"said Noah wistfully, who won back-to-back NCAA titles at Florida under Billy Donovan from 2006-07. "I’ve been in the NBA nine years, but those college years were special.
"It’s very important to live in the moment. A lot of times you want to think about the future and playing professionally. But it’s important to cherish these moments.”
As for Butler had nowhere near the college success as Noah, but has turned into the better pro. He found it hard to relate to today’s college hoops.
"It’s been a long time; a lot of years,” said Butler, who was returning the favor to Noah, who had brought him to a Florida game a few years ago. "I’m enjoying how these kids are playing and the way they compete.
“But the game’s so different.”
One thing that wasn’t different for him was the outcome.
"We never won here,” said Butler, watching as the 12-5 Golden Eagles dropped their seventh straight to Jay Wright & Co. since 2012, "This is a tough place."
He’ll get no argument from Marquette’s second-year coach Steve Wojciechowski, whose club dug an early 23-7 hole for himself, rallied to take a 38-37 halftime lead, only to turn stone cold in the second half when Nova used a 20-2 run to bust it open.
“They get great energy from the crowd in this building,” said Wojo, who’ll get a rematch in Milwaukee February27. “They can score from all five spots. They have guys who know their roles and they’re well coached.
“This is why they’re one of the best teams in America.”
The frightening thing is Wright thinks there’s still plenty of room for improvement, knowing he has Georgetown on the road and Providence in South Philly in the next week.
"We’re not playing great, but we play together and we play tough,"Wright said. "You can see teams really get fired up to play us."
For the time being neither will Wright, who’ll soon replace retiring Andy Talley as the dean of Wildcat coaches.
"I was a 25-year-old assistant here when he started the football program,” recalled Wright, responding to the news on campus Talley’s 32nd season in 2016 will be his last. “I always looked up to him then and he was always kind to me.
“He’s always been a mentor to me. He and I text before and after each one of our games. There’s more to it than just winning here at Villanova, but he set the standard.”
Just one more example of why both players and coaches find college such a rewarding experience. In case they’d forgotten Butler andNoah — sitting courtside— were reminded of what their lives used to be like Wednesday night.
You can’t help but wonder if — all the money they’re making aside — they’d rather have that part of their lives back again.