Jay Wright: No to Kentucky
Jay Wright shot down a brewing rumor that he was either interested in or in contention for the now vacant Kentucky head coaching job.
Jay Wright: No to Kentucky
Bob Ford, Inquirer Sports Columnist
Jay Wright shot down a brewing rumor that he was either interested in or in contention for the now vacant Kentucky head coaching job.
He won't be switching Wildcats, according to Wright, for all the right reasons. Billy Gillispie was fired to the sin of missing the NCAA tournament. Wright will stay put because he expects to be treated more fairly where he is.
From Friday's press conference: "You know, the more you're in it, you have different perspectives at this time of year. It's a crazy business we're in. I always used a line with our assistants when they complain about things, it's like "The Godfather," this is the life we chose. It is what it is. You have to deal with it this time of year.
"I feel very fortunate I'm in a spot I don't have to deal with it. I'm happy to be at Villanova. I don't want to be anywhere else. Someone mentions your name, you're flattered. You're crazy if you don't say that, or you're not being truthful if you don't say that. But I don't want my name mentioned anywhere. I love Villanova. I've got a great athletic director, great president. As long as those guys are there, I'm good.
"And I can concentrate on coaching. A lot of times when you're not in that position, it's distracting, because you have to think about -- you can be playing, and you have to think about your family and decisions you're going to have to make.
When I was at Hofstra it was a very different perspective. I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position."
And Villanova, one win away from making the Final Four, feels fortunate to have him.
Here is the rest of the transcript from Friday's Villanova press availability for Wright, courtesy of ASAP Sports and the NCAA:
COACH WRIGHT: Well, it seems like we all just left here. I can't believe we're back. We got back to the hotel and we got to enjoy that victory. We wake up today and it's next game.
It's one of the things that this group right here, we've got three seniors and Scottie who's played so many games, he's like a senior, have been very, very successful with this year is just put the last game behind them, whether it was a good game or bad game, move on to the next game and keeping their focus on that.
So I think that's going to be important. The higher the stakes get the more there's distractions around you. And we're really counting on these upperclassmen to make sure we concentrate on Pitt, who is -- I know I sound like a broken record, but when you get to this point in the season you're playing great teams. We know them. These seniors have played against their seniors so many times.
It's going to be a great game. We know each other very well and we've had a lot of great battles. We have great respect for them, as I said last night. We'd love to win this game, but at least -- I hope we do win, but at least if we don't, there's a Big East team going to the Final Four. We'll be proud of them and happy for them, but I hope it's us.
Q. In 2006 your current seniors were freshmen on the 2006 team that went to the Elite 8 and lost. What do you think they learned from that experience and how are they applying it for tomorrow's game?
COACH WRIGHT: You know, we haven't got to talk about that a lot yet. We're just getting over last night's game. But I'm hoping that just this, you know, the next step and everybody talking about the Final Four and all that, I think these guys know, and this is what I referenced earlier, that none of that talk really matters. You've got to play the game.
And I don't think that cost us the game last time against Florida. I think Florida just played a great game. But I think these guys understand that none of the rewards of this game matter. What really matters is just concentrating on playing our best game that we can tomorrow and preparing for Pitt the best we can. And then we let everything else take care of itself.
Q. Talk a little bit about the last game against Pitt, just your memories of what that was all about.
COACH WRIGHT: You know, that was -- I almost don't count that as a game that we can refer to in terms of preparing for this game. I almost in a weird way felt sorry for Pitt that night. It was like -- it's the last game of the Spectrum. It's about 100 degrees in there. The place is packed, there's all kinds of history. Everybody is fired up. They're just walking in for a regular Big East game.
The game had been promoted in Philadelphia. And the place was electric. At the end of the game the whole place is standing. There was a huge banner, the last game ever played, Pitt versus Villanova. For them it was a regular season game. For us and everybody in Philadelphia it was a big, big event.
And I just thought the crowd that night and that environment had a big effect on the game. That's not going to be here tomorrow. It's going to be a different kind of game.
But as a Philadelphia guy, what I remember at the end of that game, we're holding the ball out, that place is standing, and as I said, it just reminded you of the old great Villanova- Georgetown games there, Villanova-Syracuse games, that sold out the place when I was an assistant. It was a really touching night for me. I was very honored to be a part of that last game in Philly.
Q. Ever think you'd see Pitt again?
COACH WRIGHT: No. I said to our staff after the game, I said, Thank God we played them in here on this night and we don't have to see them again. That was exactly what I said to our staff after the game. I really didn't think we were going to see them. But here they are. And they are good.
Q. How difficult, in the current climate, is it to do what you're doing, a smaller Catholic school in a power 6 conference to get here to two Elite 8's?
COACH WRIGHT: You know what, being a part of the Big East and being a school like Villanova that has great tradition, has a lot of great players in a very close proximity, I think we're in a pretty good spot, to be honest with you. If you look at the history of Villanova they've always been successful. Every coach has been successful.
I think probably the best thing I've done is be the coach of Villanova. If you get that job, you're going to be successful. There's a lot of great things there. In this Big East Conference, players want to come play there. We're proud of what we've done, we are.
Q. Earlier, it wasn't easy. How hard was it even to get to this point?
COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, the early years you have to set your foundation. We went through our tough times, we did. But I think every successful program does. And then you have your next challenge, once you get it going, that's why I'm really proud of this group. Our first class was Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Frasier, all those guys. Jason Frasier was our biggest recruit and had 7 surgeries and never really got to play. But that team became very successful when they were seniors, and they passed on to this group of seniors their legacy.
I talked to a bunch of them today and that's what I said to them, that this is your legacy, these guys. And that's the next challenge is keeping it going. And that's what I'm really proud of. We've got a couple of sophomores, and we've got a great class coming in next year. This group is going to be responsible for them. It's fun, but it's challenging.
Q. Is there any kind of irony that you and Jamie and the two programs since you've been there, that you're kind of going through that breakthrough now to be among the UConn and Syracuse in the conference, that you're going up against each other to get that breakthrough to the Final Four?
COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, and I hadn't thought of that, really. But I think both of our programs have been very consistent over the last -- well, even Pitt longer, but since Jamie has been there. Ben had it going. Jamie kept it going.
I think probably the best that you can say about both of our programs is just consistency at a high level over the last five years. I think that's what Andy was talking about. That's hard to do. And that's challenging.
As I said, we love -- we don't like playing against them, but we love how they play. You heard our guys say it, they take pride in playing hard. They take pride in defending. They take pride in rebounding. We do, too. I think that's why they've been successful. I think that's why we've been successful.
Q. Can you just talk about Levance a little bit. What does it say about a player who's 0 for 8 at Connecticut and makes two big 3's, 3 and 9 last night, makes the big 3. Can you talk about him a little.
COACH WRIGHT: Well, you know, I coached at Hofstra University. When we were at Hofstra, for 7 years we had 12 of our 13 players were all New York City kids and we had one foreigner, he was from North Bergen, New Jersey (laughter). We've coached those kids, those New York kids, those New York guards. What we respect about them is they are fearless. They are fearless. They do not fear losing a game.
And I think Carl Krauser did that at Pitt. It's amazing to me. Carl Krauser used to do the same thing, if you remember. He could have a rough game, not make shots, wasn't a pure shooter, but give him a 3 when the game was on the line, he made it every time.
And Levance does the same thing. You just love having those guys on your side. We had guys like that. We had Speedy Claxton, we had Randy Foye, and Allan Ray, those guys. When the game is on the line, they love to have the ball in their hands.
What you don't realize is sometimes when you lose a close game, those are the guys that miss the shot, but they don't remember that. They want to hit the big one.
Q. When you played Pitt the first time I think you were 0 and 3 at that point, and that game kind of put you over the hump. And since then how much did that game mean in terms of everything that's happened after and how important was that just at that point to get past that?
COACH WRIGHT: Well, I think Scottie made a great point, and I actually had forgotten about that, that up until that point we were kind of riding Scottie and Dante. When they scored we played well. When they didn't, we didn't. In that game Pitt did such a great job on Scottie. Dante had a good game, because Blair got in foul trouble. But we were kind of relying on Dante. We had nothing else going.
All of a sudden Shane Clark comes in, he steps up. Reggie Redding gets it going, he steps up. And we kind of learned from that game that, you know what, we're not going to survive with just being Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham; we need everybody to make big plays. Corey Fisher had a great game that night and so did Stokes. I think they gained confidence and our coaching staff gained confidence.
We have to go in games and can't rely on just those two. And that was a big breakthrough for us.
Q. Did Rollie have any new advice for you in the last day?
COACH WRIGHT: We saw him in the lobby, we were coming over here and he had Scottie Reynolds and he was working on his jump shot with him, he was telling him he didn't have enough arc on his shot. And one of my good friends, Chris Schempo [ph], said, Coach is messing with Scottie over there. I went over there and told Scottie, He can teach you how to get to a National Championship, he wasn't the greatest shooting instructor. Just do what you've been doing. Our guys love him. He's such a character. I don't know if the players understand what he did with that team.
It's probably like I look at Bill Russell and the Celtics, I know how great they were, but I probably don't know because I wasn't there. But they do love having Coach Mass around.
Q. How did you come across Scottie down in Virginia, and did you expect him to be the player he is now? The second one, Pat Chambers, nearly a life changing experience, and now he's on the cusp of changing everything. What do you remember about his situation, could you talk about that?
COACH WRIGHT: First, Scottie, we totally lucked out with Scottie Reynolds. He was going to Oklahoma. We got a call at the end of his senior year from his high school coach. He asked me, Do you know who Scottie Reynolds is? We were actually recruiting Chris Wright, who was now at Georgetown. I went to see Chris Wright play in the summer. Scottie went on Boo Williams' AU team, and Scottie Reynolds was playing, and I thought that was Chris Wright because Chris Wright was young. I was thinking, I love this kid. And someone said, that's Scottie Reynolds, he's going to Oklahoma.
And Chris Wright was coming off the bench on that team. I called our assistant and said, Why are you recruiting guys coming off the bench? That's all I saw of Scottie Reynolds. They called us and said, He's available, he likes Villanova and we got him. It was that easy. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than to be good.
And Pat Chambers did, he had a bizarre incident and -- he was an assistant coach at Episcopal Academy at the time where my kids go to school. I knew him as a player, as a Philly basketball guy, and I knew one of his brothers. When we all heard that happen, Billy Lange who was on the staff, they were best friends, we all sent him a note in the hospital. You know, it had a big impact on him. He was close to death. He was always a guy with great attitude. But I think since then he's got a love for life that affects all of us on our team.
Q. How much of getting Blair in foul trouble the first time around was you guys' design? How much do you think you'd have to adjust if you can't do that again?
COACH WRIGHT: Were you at that game? There was some -- they were not smart plays on his part. He has learned from that. There was a couple of pick and rolls he smacked at the guy. It wasn't us going into Dante Cunningham and going at him. You heard Dante say our guards did a good job. He went for some steals. He got two quick ones in the first half. Started the second half, he did it again. He was going for steals, he was being overly aggressive when he didn't have to. We've watched a lot of Pitt games preparing for other teams, he's gotten much better at that.
We're going to -- I noticed last night he played 17 minutes in the first half, one foul. He's learned a lot. We're going to have to deal with him for 40 minutes, I think, tomorrow.
Q. You played at Bucknell and coached at Hofstra. Have those experiences at those levels shaped you in terms of your feeling for how you go about your business and how you look at the whole world that you're occupying today?
COACH WRIGHT: That's a good question. I think that's something I've always thought about when I hire assistant coaches, also, is that playing at Bucknell, wanting to have played at Villanova and not being good enough, makes you appreciate every day that you go through this as opposed to maybe having been a player at Villanova and that's all you know.
I was also an assistant coach at University of Rochester, Division III in New York. And you respect every level. You respect every kid, regardless of his -- I wasn't a Patriot League level player. It wasn't Patriot League then. I know how hard I worked, I knew how good I thought I was. I knew how important it was to me. So I know how important everything -- our walk-ons do is. I never take any of this for granted. And I make sure that our players understand how fortunate they are to be here, every day.
I think -- I really do think that has impacted me. I think it helps us when we play those teams, too. Like playing American, I've said it a hundred times, we were not surprised at how good they were. We explained to those guys. We had two Hofstra teams that we almost beat UCLA one year and we believed we were going to beat them. We believed we were good enough. I think it allowed us to respect everybody we play. I wouldn't change my path in any way.
Q. Coach, in regard to Reggie, how do you get a young man who I assume maybe probably earned a scholarship, based as an offensive player coming out to evolve into a guy who's defense, passing and maybe some of the dirty work, if you will?
COACH WRIGHT: The No. 1 question is how do you recruit the leading scorer in the history of his school, Saint Joe's prep, which was -- and he won't shoot when he comes to play for you. That's the question. His high school coach, Speedy Morris, he jokes all the time, he said I couldn't get him to play a lick of defense, and all he'll do is shoot. Now he won't shoot and he's our best defensive player. It's really bizarre to me.
So I say to him all the time, you know -- and I kind of laughed when he said, I took it under consideration what coach said. That's Reggie. Reggie doesn't do it because I said it. He's very, very bright. Saint Joe's Prep is a very, very competitive academic high school. He takes things under consideration. He thinks about everything. And that's probably why.
But I tried to explain, Reggie, you're the leading scorer in Saint Joe's prep history. Why are you tentative? You've got the green light, go. When he goes and he's aggressive, we're a great team. He had 11 assists and zero turnovers, our point guards have never done that. I think there's so much more we can get out of him. But he's a classic Philly player. He just plays to win. He's going to do as much as he has to to win, no more. And he's going to conserve his energy, but he's going to win. You love him for that, but we've got to get more out of him.
Q. If you think back to your days as assistant, how is the Big East different now, since the expansion, and just all that's changed?
COACH WRIGHT: I just did a radio show with Coach Thompson and we just talked about that. It's different. I think what we have going right now in the Big East is something that's just new and unique to college sports. I don't think anybody knows how to deal with it yet. I think people always tend to pick the negative and say it's too big. Coaches are going to get fired. But how about the fact that any season ticket holder in any school in this conference saw incredible basketball every night. It was awesome. To be in it, to play in it, was incredible, every game.
We had a game at Seton Hall that was an incredible college basketball game, overtime. We could have got beat just as easy as we won. Anybody that was at that game would say, Wow, what a game. Every game was like that. I think we have something going that's incredible.
What was going on back then was different in that you only had nine teams. No one left early for the NBA. It was the hottest league. Every team had four or five pros. Maybe they had two that were seniors, two that were juniors. You saw that there was a freshman and sophomore coming up that were going to be pros. And there was a -- each team was better than the teams are now. But there weren't as many great teams in the country as there are now.
Back then, I remember when I was an assistant we played Syracuse and they had Coleman and Billy Owens, Sherman Douglas all on the same team. It was incredible. All the teams were like that. It was unbelievable.
Q. Just wanted to pose to you the question I posed to the players. Who in your mind best defines that term, straight baller?
COACH WRIGHT: Well, I'll give you this answer if you promise me, just use the answer. I think their team, and this is what makes them tough, and we take pride in this, too, I think they've got about eight ballers. That's what makes them so tough. You don't pick a guy and say he's just a shooter. They've got basketball players.
We're that way, too. But I think if you pick the guy on their team that you just say he's just -- he's a baller, he's just going to get it done, you have to say Levance Fields. He is their engine. But they all play that way. And that's why they are where they are. Not just because they've got a couple of good players. Bradley Wanamaker coming off the bench out of Philly is that way. They've got -- Gibbs is that way coming off the bench. They've got ballers.
Q. Since the personnel of your team this year is obviously almost identical to the personnel last year, I was wondering if you could comment on that five-game losing streak last year and the adversity that they went through that ultimately might have shaped what they've become now a year and a half later?
COACH WRIGHT: I really believe that hardened them. I really believe that remains in their conscience that it's always possible. You heard Scottie Reynolds say we don't want to lose a game and go on a streak, because we experienced it together.
We didn't have to say to them going into the Big East season, Hey, we've got to be ready to play every night or we can go on a skid. They did it. They lived through it. And I really think it's given them a mental toughness that's carried us this far.
Q. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you're not sure the kids appreciated what happened earlier. When you were a young coach when you were watching it that night, did you appreciate it?
COACH WRIGHT: Tears in my eyes. It was -- when you're a young coach and you grow up in Philly and Rollie Massimino is a legend to you. He always preached -- I would work in his camp back then, and if you worked his camp you were family. So you always heard that when you worked his camp. Now you're watching it on the biggest stage and it's that team, family, is carrying him to a National Championship. It was awesome.
And I just -- I think our guys get it right now for our team, but they don't know it's the same thing that carried that team because they just weren't around. HBO did a great piece on that. I watched that HBO piece, it was great. But the historical perspective, what was going on in the country then, everything, what an underdog they really were, I don't think you could get that unless you were really there.
Q. Three years ago you lost in the 8 to a team that eventually would win two times, maybe you can rationalize that a little bit. What would it mean to you to get to the Final Four? How much have you thought about the ensuing times since you were very close, and maybe if the draw were different you would have gotten there, what would it mean for you to get to the Final Four?
COACH WRIGHT: You know, it's really not -- I know this is going to sound crazy -- it's not a goal of mine. It's really not. I would love to see these players get there. I know how much it would mean. It would mean the world to them. And I haven't thought about -- what I always thought about was the last three times we got knocked out, we got knocked out by the eventual national champions. So I really felt good about that in terms of our staff. I felt, you know what, we pushed them, they gave us everything they got. It took the National Champion to beat us.
And not as an excuse, but just that, you know what, we played a great team and maybe we just weren't good enough. But we were pretty damn good. We were Sweet 16, we were Elite 8.
We look at this tournament as match-ups. We don't judge our program on whether we get to a Sweet 16, Final Four. We judge our program on: Are we playing the best basketball we can by the end of the season? All three of those losses we felt like we were playing our best basketball and we just got beat by a better team. And I felt good about that.
I'm sure there will come a time for us maybe where we slip. It could have happened in the American game. If we lost that American game I would have felt, you know what, we should be better than that team, we didn't play well enough tonight and that's our fault, we didn't get there. But those three teams that beat us were great.
Q. What it's like to lose an Elite 8 game when all the hype a couple of days later is about the four teams and no one remembers who lost?
COACH WRIGHT: You know, I've only done it once. You are crushed. You are crushed. Because when you get that far everything is clicking, everything is -- you're on such a high. Like right now we go to meetings, there's not one kid turning his eyes sideways. He's into everything you say. It's such a thrill as a coach and a team member. Then that ends, you're crushed.
Now for us, within a day or two you step back. We always have a team meeting a day or two later. Now let's look at what we did. During the season we never talk -- this senior class has all kinds of accomplishments. I know some of them, some of them I don't even know, I told our sports information director, I know you've got them, list them all at the end. We'll have a meeting, we'll talk about them. This is what you guys did.
But right now we want to be in the moment. Two days later we try to make them feel great about what they accomplished. And again, this is just us, one time, you're exhausted. The next couple of days those other teams are playing, you're kind of like, all right, I'd love to be here, but I'll take a couple of days off. You are shot, you really are.
Q. Coach, obviously Pitt's made it this far, so they're not that far off of their goals right now. But they haven't exactly been firing on all cylinders. A couple of close games. What do you think has held them back during these first three games, if anything?
COACH WRIGHT: I think each team has its own personality. I think their personality, it's kind of like we're talking about -- I think they have Levance Fields' personality, the team does. I don't think it's ever going to be pretty with them, but in the end they find a way to get it done. That's who they are. There are a lot of teams that have won championships doing that. And they've won Big East championships doing that, by the way.
I don't see it not firing on all cylinders. We watched the Xavier game. All the coaches were saying, they're going to do this. We've seen them do it so much. My assistants said Levance Fields is going to win this. I didn't see it at the end. I think that's what they do.
Q. I'm going to beat on that first Pitt game one more time. I understand your rationalization about the setting of the game, but your kids had no idea what the Spectrum is or was, and you didn't make a big deal out of it either. The second half you guys came back, they gave a lot of credit to Reggie for stepping up and going to the rim. What was your real sense of how that played out in that second half?
COACH WRIGHT: I think there's two points, here. I beg to differ with you on the building. I don't think they knew -- I know they didn't know anything about the Spectrum. But in that second half when that place got going and it was so hot in there. I pride myself I don't sweat too much. I was just sweating like crazy. And my friends were busting my chops bout going to my hanky all the time. I don't ever remember being in a game like that. It was so hot and so loud.
It's a different type place, everybody is on top of you. I really think it got us going. That crowd got us going, whether they knew where they were or not, it got us going.
And the second thing was, Shane Clark in the second half coming up with all those big offensive rebounds. Reggie Redding, big shots. Corey Fisher, big shots. They really hadn't done that before in Big East games. And that's what kind of got us going is they knew Pitt -- were they No. 1 or No. 2, 3? But they knew they were a great team. And now they do it against a great team and they got confidence and we got confidence in them. That's what I think really happened.
I swear, that building had a lot to do with it. I really do think it does. Just the crowd, I mean.
Q. Earlier you were talking about Reggie and you talked about him being a Philadelphia player and some of the characteristics. Can you expand on that, what is a Philadelphia basketball player like and can you compare that to what a Pitt basketball player might be like?
COACH WRIGHT: I don't know a lot of the Pittsburgh basketball players. The one I do know is DeJuan Blair. So you look at that, and I refer to him as a beast in a very complimentary way. I would say -- I could see that being a Pittsburgh basketball player. Blue collar, like the Steelers, that's how he plays to me.
A Philadelphia basketball player is -- they are not flashy. They are not flashy, at all. There's -- in Philly there's a term they call Philadelphia guard. Reggie Redding is one of them. They're guys that play the game in an intelligent way. Maybe a guy he can dunk, but he only dunks when he has to. He always makes the right pass. He understands time and score and he takes great pride in making the right plays and being a winner and not being flashy or drawing attention to himself. People in Philly, basketball players, take a great pride in that. And that's Reggie. Shane Clark is the same way.
Q. I think in your three tournament games you've outscored opponents in the second half 50-some points. Coincidence or is there a common denominator in there?
COACH WRIGHT: I think we have good depth, I really do. I think we're able to -- if you look at the minutes, some of Duke's top guys played 36 minutes. Our top guys played 32, 30. That can make a difference over the course of a game. And Antonio Pena is a guy I wanted to get in there more. He gave us great minutes last night. And I hope to use him more tomorrow.
What I mean by that is we can -- our guys aren't getting tired. We're actually looking for opportunities to get Pena more minutes.
Q. In conjunction with that, do you sell to the two Coreys, say, We only have seven starters. Do you have to sell it to them or do they feel equal with the other five?
COACH WRIGHT: You know what, a couple of people around our program say that, they say there's seven starters or they call them the big 8. But I've never had to say that to them, ever. Those guys, they really don't care. It's an amazing thing, because those guys are big-time players. I'm sure they would love to start, but I know they don't care. They really don't. They've been outstanding that way. And they're in a lot at the end of the games. They know that. But I never have to talk to them about it.