Philadelphia: St. John’s never led in a 92-79 loss to Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night in a game where they trailed by as many as 26. It was the 498th win of Jay Wright’s head coaching career, one that started at Hofstra.
Back in 2000, it looked like Red Storm coach Mike Jarvis might leave for the Wizards and Wright, rebuilding at Hofstra, was on the short list of potential replacements. Instead, Jarvis stayed and Wright went to Villanova a year later.
Does he think about that or is it just St. John’s fans? “Not anymore,” Wright said. “I’m far enough away from that. But I loved being in New York. I really did love my Hofstra years. Back then, like 2000, 2001, I did think about it, but not anymore.”
To review: Mike Jarvis had been at St. John’s for two seasons. The 98-99 team was one win away from the Final Four. The 99-00 team beat Syracuse, UConn and Duke in one week and won the Big East title although they were upset in the round of 32.
Then Michael Jordan came close to taking Jarvis away from Utopia Parkway and having him coach the Wizards. And if that happened, Wright would’ve made sense as a replacement.
Wright had taken over a dormant Hofstra program in 1994, turned it around and made it to the 2000 NCAA Tournament after nearly ending up at Fordham in 1999.
Jordan and Jarvis couldn’t get a deal done, and Jarvis stayed at St. John’s. Wright remained at Hofstra. In December, Wright’s Hofstra team beat the Red Storm at Nassau Coliseum, the first time the school ever beat St. John’s. Hofstra made the NCAA tournament again but lost to UCLA, coached by Steve Lavin.
Then Villanova hired Wright to return to where he had been an assistant to Rollie Massimino from 1987-92.
The first few years weren’t easy, and included suspensions to a dozen players for a phone card scandal. And there was probation for minor violations. After three unspectacular seasons, the 2005 team made the Sweet Sixteen and the 2006 squad went to the Elite Eight.
Villanova went to the Final Four in 2009, a first for the program since the 1985 championship. They were ranked #1 for the first time in school history last season, and won the championship on a Kris Jenkins buzzer beater that might be the most exciting ending in college basketball history.
Wright, who has won three straight Big East Coach of the Year awards, has built a program to admire. They win. They don’t have the drama or headlines that other teams deal with. Their fans don’t get under the skin of St. John’s fans the way the Syracuse and UConn fan bases used to.
Villanova isn’t seen as the villain of the conference but is instead appreciated for the national title which has been a boost for the new Big East in a world dominated by football. They’ve had at least 20 wins in 12 of the last 13 seasons.
And Wright owns St. John’s. Under Wright, Villanova has won 18 of the 21 meetings between the two teams and now 16 of the last 17.
Villanova has had Steeler-like consistency when it comes to its coaches. (Maybe it’s a Pennsylvania thing.)
They’ve had three head coaches since the 73-74 season. Massimino, Steve Lappas (who announced Saturday’s game) and Wright. Chris Mullin is the third head coach at St. John’s since 2004-05.
Jordan didn’t hire Jarvis, who had coached Jordan, Chris Mullin, Bill Wennington and Patrick Ewing for the 1981 McDonald’s All-American team. (Jordan would later hire Steve Lavin’s assistant, Mike Dunlap, to coach the Bobcats.) Jarvis would become the first coach in Big East to be fired midseason when the Red Storm started 2-4 in the 2003-04 season.
Then came the Pittsburgh scandal, violations and irrelevancy as Norm Roberts tried to right the ship.
Dorms were built in the late 90s, meaning players couldn’t receive a stipend to live off campus. And local high school players don’t look at New York the way they used to, although Mullin was able to keep talented guard Shamorie Ponds in the city.
With Steve Lavin, the Red Storm had three 20-win seasons this decade but no postseason success. They parted ways and Mullin, the greatest player in school history, came in to try to make St. John’s feel like it used to.
If the Red Storm want to build a consistent winner in the new Big East, and Mullin is capable of doing it, they don’t have to look back to 1985.
They can look at what Jay Wright has done at Villanova.