Foward-thinking Wildcats putting national title behind them

VILLANOVA'S basketball season doesn't start for another three months. But the reigning national champions have already began putting the title behind them and moving on to whatever's next. So what else is new?

"That's what we've always done before, so why should this year be different?" asked senior Kris Jenkins, whose indelible buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Wildcats a 77-74 win over North Carolina in the final. "That (shot) will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. But it's something you have to look past (now). Guys have new roles. Everybody's up for the challenge.

"I just think we can continue to grow and get better, just like last year's team did. We didn't start the year off great last year. I feel like the ceiling for this team is just as good if not higher.

"Everybody's job is to keep us focused, hungry and motivated."

The Wildcats, who have to replace starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, should be ranked in the top two or three (with Kentucky and Duke) in the first poll. Monday night they held their annual Summer Jam at the Pavilion, where 'Nova Nation got its first glimpse of this group. As coach Jay Wright told the fans, there are many who haven't stopped celebrating the 1985 title yet.

On Tuesday they left for Spain, where they'll play three exhibition games. But this trip is as much about bonding and chemistry as anything else.

"I might come back fluent in Spanish," joked senior Josh Hart, who's probably their best and most versatile player and has added 15 pounds of noticeable muscle since the Final Four. "We're not the national champions any more. We understand that. We're getting this team as ready as we can.

"Obviously we're not anywhere close to hopefully where we'll be at the end of the year," Hart said. "We have our own expectations. The hype is kind of dying down, and that's how we all kind of want it. The closer we get to the season, they'll be more hype in the media. It's nice that we can have these games right now. We're ready to move on. I think that's the biggest thing."

Wright, who's never been to Spain, last took a team overseas in 2011, when the Wildcats visited France and the Netherlands. He wants the program to remain true to its core values, something that didn't happen after it lost to North Carolina in the national semifinals in 2009.

"For any number of reasons, we just changed after that," Wright recalled. "It started with me and the staff. We've got to start all over again, go back and respect the process, don't skip any steps, just do what we always do and enjoy it. It's easy to say. But when everybody around you is asking different questions, it distracts you from that. That's one of the things we'll talk about in Spain.

"I think I've made enough mistakes, and had enough experiences, to learn a lot. It's still challenging, but hopefully with more wisdom. I would never give (the title) back. It's been an incredible experience. That's what it is, an experience to learn from . . .

"This is an educational trip, to learn about another culture, to learn about each other, to learn basketball. It can't be go wild in Barcelona. These guys represent Villanova, in everything they do. Kids used to be able to do that. I did that in college. It's going to be more like a relaxed road trip than it will be a spring break."

Perks are nice. Especially when you're still the program that has the trophy until somebody takes it away.

"I don't know if they really care (about that) over there, which is a good thing," Wright noted. "It's been a great summer, it really has. Very busy. When people asked if you stopped to enjoy it I said I don't think we stopped. But we enjoyed it . . .

"We'll build on this."


kernm@phillynews.com

@mikekerndn