Villanova's Hart says he'll never stop hustling

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Villanova guard Josh Hart. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

It's a wonder Villanova forward Josh Hart did not become a baseball player growing up. His father, Moses, was the nephew of the late Elston Howard, the former New York Yankees catcher and 1963 American League MVP, and was "really into baseball," Hart said.

"I'm not really sure how I advanced on to basketball but I did it somehow," Hart said with a smile.

Then again, the leisurely pace of baseball doesn't look as if it would have fit the Josh Hart everyone sees on the basketball court. The 6-foot-5 sophomore seems to launch himself off invisible trampolines to snare any offensive rebound in sight. There are no places on a 94-by-50-foot basketball court where he might not chase down a loose ball.

On a Villanova team full of energy guys, the kind of players coach Jay Wright likes, Hart might be the energy guy.

"It's a good feeling, but it's a better feeling knowing that there's eight or nine other people behind me that are going to do the same thing," Hart said. "Being the first person off the bench, I'm really looking to bring energy. I know the coaches depend on that from me, as do my teammates. I've got to go out there and do that every time I'm on the court."

The idea of bringing energy came to Hart at an early age. His former Rec League coach demanded that of him and soon his father was joining in.

"He hated to see me give up on anything," Hart said. "When I was 10 years old, even if we were down 20 and there was a loose ball with 10 seconds left, if I'm not on it, I'm going to hear it. The mentality was, no matter what the score or what's going on, no matter how much time is left, play hard when you're on the court."

According to Hart, there was punishment when he didn't follow that mentality.

"I'd usually hear it in the car," Hart said. "I remember one time . . . when I was about 11 or 12, we lost a game on the weekend. I'm thinking, 'I get to stay up late, no school in the morning.' But we drove to a little basketball court about 10:30-11 o'clock, put the lights on, and went through a little workout - shooting, dribbling, everything like that.

"That's something that really stuck out to me, that he really kind of instilled that into me. There were a lot of nights like that, but never after a game like that night. I remember being tired, just wanting to go home, and he's like, 'You didn't play hard enough. You've got to go out there and get better.' "

There's no question that he did that. Hart is averaging 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Wildcats (18-2, 5-2 Big East). He is second on the team in offensive rebounds and third in steals.

Villanova was off for five days after its 20-point loss to Georgetown before defeating Creighton on Sunday. The Wildcats are in the middle of another five-day break before playing Saturday at DePaul. But for Hart and his teammates, the purpose is the same - keep getting better.

"We know we've got a lot more work to do," he said. "If we take it day by day, we're going to get better. We're not going to think too far ahead. We're not going to overlook anything. I think if we do that, we'll definitely be in a better place."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

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