NY Sports Day
Jon Wagner

Jay Wright Remains Tempted By The NBA But Still Loves Villanova Too Much To Leave

Jon Wagner / NYSD

Born and raised in small-town, rural Pennsylvania, having played college basketball at nearby Bucknell and now living his dream of coaching the marquee college basketball team in his home state — with the added joys of being only two years removed from a national title and having his team ranked No. 1 for the third straight year — Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright loves being right where he is.

Still, it’s only natural that successful coaches like Wright — who is 398-161 (.712) at Villanova, and who in addition to being a national champion, has guided the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament in 12 of the past 13 years, including a pair of Sweet 16 appearances, an Elite Eight trip and an earlier Final Four besides the Wildcats’ title year — receives offers from other places trying to pry him away from the coveted job he had always wanted.

The Kentucky Wildcats and the Philadelphia 76ers came calling after Wright’s first Final Four in 2009, and after Villanova won its second national title (and first since 1985), the Phoenix Suns were very interested in Wright. Likewise, for other NBA teams.

Yet each time, Wright decided that home is where his heart was.

Following his homecoming at Nassau Coliseum on Friday night, Wright’s first game with Villanova against Hofstra — the program which gave him his first head coaching job — I asked Wright if he’s had a change of heart at all, especially given the NBA’s overall trend in recent years toward the smaller ball, guard-focused style with an emphasis on good floor spacing and perimeter shooting, all of which has made Wright a success at the college level.

While Wright fully recognizes how those qualities might make him an even better fit in today’s NBA than in the past, and although the competitor in him considers the idea of seeking the next big challenge in the NBA, he remains steadfast that whatever benefits may come from jumping to the NBA (both financial and otherwise) are still outweighed by what he already has with leading Villanova.

Wright said, “You think about it, but then you think, ‘Okay, you’ve got to leave Villanova to do it.’ I love where I live, I love my job, I love the team.

“I’ve talked to my team and I’ve talked to [NBA] teams, but I just love my job. I don’t want to give it up. That’s really what it is.”

The current head coach of the program Wright left behind — Hofstra’s Joe Mihalich — understands that sentiment completely.

“Coaches are emotional and get close to places,” he said after losing to Wright, 95-71, on Friday night, under the weight of Villanova’s sizzling 16-for-34 3-point shooting predicated on a lot of the same types of offensive principles which are making some of the NBA’s best teams — like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets — very successful.

“Jay had to leave [Hofstra],” Mihalich continued. “[Leaving for Villanova] was too good of an opportunity to stay, [yet] if he had stayed at Hofstra for the rest of his life, I’m sure he would’ve died a happy man.”

Perhaps the same could be said now with Wright staying at Villanova, particularly when too good of an NBA opportunity for Wright to turn down may not even exist.

“It would have to be the perfect job to do it,” Wright said. “That’s what I always think.”

Although NBA teams in search of the next Brad Stevens (who has thus far made a highly successful jump from the Butler Bulldogs to the Boston Celtics) know getting Wright to leave his beloved situation in Villanova seems exceedingly improbable, they’ll likely keep trying as Wright keeps winning.

And it’s not simply because of Wright’s good results at Villanova, but the way in which he’s achieved them, with the types of basketball values and ideologies at each end of the floor which would translate well to the NBA game.

As Mihalich pointed out, “You can’t make mistakes against [Villanova], and if you do, they make you pay. That’s why they’re No. 1 in the country. I don’t know if they have a weakness.

“They really shoot the ball and they’re making 3s. They stretch the floor out, there’s no weakness defensively, they have all the intangibles, but the way they shoot the ball [is great].”

Mihalich’s best player and a good scorer in his own right, junior guard Justin Wright-Foreman (who impressed Wright, and not just because of his surname before the hyphen) said after losing to Villanova on Friday night, “Coach Jay Wright is definitely an amazing coach. The way they shoot the ball… we came out, we were closing out to them and they were still making shots. It was like, “Geez, what else can we do?’ Defensively, they’re really good as well. They communicate perfectly. Overall, a great team.”

Although he admits entertaining the thought of jumping to the NBA, even in an ultimate “perfect fit” scenario (whatever that may be), Wright, who turned 56 this Sunday, still doesn’t believe he’d ultimately go through with saying goodbye to what he already sees as the ideal situation with Villanova.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I just don’t want to leave Villanova.”

 


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