Jay Wright has a warning for Villanova basketball fans, still basking inthe Wildcats’ improbable run to the NCAA championship: Ready or not the MainLine version of “The Hangover“ is aboutto begin.
“After the tournament I talked to a number of peoplelike Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun; a number of who’d won championships,” said Wright, whoseteam — missing departed Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu—gets its seasonunderway Friday at the Pavilion vs. Lafayette. “Just to get an idea of what we’re in storefor and how to handle the next season.
“Everybody mentioned in some way there is ahangover, no matter what you do. Maybeyou can get over it. Maybe you can’t. But everyone addressed the fact it lingers into your next season and you haveto deal with it.
“We have a lot of challenges this year within ourteam. That’s gonna be one of the challenges outside our team.”
But just as they’ve always —after all thosefrustrating early tournament exits — said there was nothing they do about that until March Madness got underway, they know the same applies to defending theircrown. “
This is nothing new to us,” saidleading scorer (15.3 ppg) and All America candidate Josh Hart, who along withchampionship game hero Kris Jenkins (13.6) and sophomore point guard JalenBrunson (9.6) will lead the way. “We wonthe Big East championship a few years in a row where we had a target on ourback.
“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 DarrylReynolds taking over for Ochefu and either Phil Booth or Mikal Bridges movinginto 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 andlosing,” replied Jenkins, who became an instant celebrity this off-season, evenfrequently being recognized in rest rooms. “We judge ourselves over whether we play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Play hard, smart and together. Defend, reboundand execute
“Obviously, we on the championship last year, butthat doesn’t define us.”
It never has with Wright.
“It’s real simple,” added Wright, who says oneof his most cherished memories was the five minutes he spent waiting in thewings talking hoops with President Obama while his team was touring the WhiteHouse. “If we can come out every night andplay 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 yourown core values, but you know you get judged from outside differently and haveto accept that.”
With that Hart/Jenkins/Brunson nucleus that accountedfor 39.1 combined points including a 204 3-pointers the Wildcats figure to againamong the elite, ranked No. 4 in the pre-season. Add to that Booth, who erupted for acareer-high 20 points in the title game vs. North Carolina, defensive-mindedReynolds 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, bothcoming 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 his16th season needing 24 wins to reach the 500 mark for his career — includingseven 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 asthrilling as it gets. Having fund, beinginspired 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.