SAN ANTONIO — As he ascended a ladder with a pair of scissors in hand Monday night after Villanova captured its second national title in three years, Jay Wright’s investment in the program he has built has never been more obvious.
He blew a kiss to a swarm of Villanova fans on one side of the floor. He tapped his heart and pointed to a horde of Wildcats supporters on the opposite side of the court. Then he held his right arm aloft and flashed the “V” sign as thousands of blue-clad diehards displayed it back at him from their seats.
In that moment, it was apparent why it will not be easy — or cheap — for an NBA team to attempt to pry Wright away from Villanova. Wright is truly happy living 30 miles from where he grew up, working for administrators he respects and admires and above all else building meaningful relationships with the players he coaches.
“I have the best job in the country,” Wright said. “I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great to coach. As a coach, there’s just nothing better.”
The question of where Wright goes from here is sure to come up often with Villanova in the midst of one of the most successful runs in recent college basketball history. The Wildcats are 165-21 since the start of the 2013-14 season, a stretch that includes a pair of national championships and a combined seven Big East regular season or tournament titles.
If Wright finishes his career at Villanova, there’s no telling how much he could accomplish. Not only are he, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams the only active Division I coaches with multiple national titles, Villanova is poised to contend for years to come with a winning culture in place, no scholarship seniors on this year’s roster and a decorated recruiting class set to arrive.
On the other hand, if Wright were ever to leave, the time might be now. He’s 56 years old. The window for him to take on a new challenge won’t stay open forever. He’s an obvious candidate for NBA franchises with coaching vacancies this offseason given his winning track record, measured disposition and a Golden State Warriors-esque style of play that meshes well with the direction the league is headed.
“He has definitely proven that he’s worthy, but he has a great thing here at Villanova,” said Ashley Howard, who just finished his fifth season as an assistant coach under Wright. “Our program is in a great spot right now because of Coach. I think he loves it here at Villanova. He’s shown that. He’s had opportunities to go in the past, and he’s shown that he’s committed to staying here at Villanova and continuing to make this program great.”
Third-year Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson admitted to Yahoo Sports that it’s “inevitable” Wright will draw interest from NBA teams. Jackson said that he and Wright engage in “transparent communication about it” and that he has “no sense [Wright] is going anywhere for the long term.”
The crux of those conversations typically focus on what Jackson can do to help Wright position the program to win consistently, to graduate its players and to avoid running afoul of NCAA rules. That means anything from upgrading facilities, to hiring more support staff, to raising Wright’s $2.6 million salary, to increasing the budget for assistant coaches’ salaries and recruiting.
“He knows what it takes to win here,” Jackson said while fiddling with the bill of his new Villanova championship cap. “He’s built it, and we have to maintain it and make sure we’re prepared for the long term. He’s a competitive guy. That’s the ultimate level, the NBA. And we want to position ourselves so it’s never an option for him. But we also have to be realistic. Those are very realistic conversations, but none that have made us feel threatened he’s going to go anywhere.”
All the reasons Villanova should work to keep Wright were on display during Monday night’s 79-62 rout of Michigan.
You saw Villanova’s preparation in the way the Wildcats confused Michigan by varying their ball screen coverages and throwing the Wolverines out of their rhythm.
You saw Villanova’s knack for player development in Donte DiVincenzo blossoming from a fringe Rivals 150 recruit in 2015 to the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four three years later.
And you saw Villanova’s family atmosphere from former stars Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono taking the time to fly to San Antonio for the game.
“There are so many great programs, so many great coaches, but it’s our culture that sets us apart,” Jenkins said. “We’re all back every summer. We all work out together. We all push each other. Villanova’s one big family. It’s not a façade. It’s not phony. We all genuinely love each other.”
Whereas a coach who’s driven by championships might be more tempted to leave after capturing two in three seasons, Wright’s colleagues say that his primary motivation for coaching is mentoring and teaching his players. Therefore they don’t see Wright being any more motivated to leave now than he would have been during previous offseasons.
After watching Wright climb the ladder, hoist the net in the air and celebrate with the Villanova fans, Jenkins laid out what he thought it would take for his former coach to leave for the NBA.
“I think a team would have to offer him $100 million to be the head coach, the GM and the owner,” Jenkins said with a smile. “Unless it’s an offer like that, he has everything at Villanova and more importantly he has a winning culture. I think that’s more important to him than any dollar.”
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