Kern: Attitude, commitment are hallmarks of Villanova Basketball

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Villanova Basketball.

How many times have we heard those words over the years? The over-under is mind-boggling. And, of course, we've all taken turns snickering at the redundancy from class after class of Wildcats. But it's their thing. And when you're cutting down the nets at the end of the Madness instead of getting eliminated in the second round again, well maybe we snicker a little less. Or even a whole lot.

So, is Villanova Basketball some kind of state of mind? Or a list of rules written on stone tablets? The world according to Jay Wright, which has created a Stepford-like culture within the locker room?

Whatever it is, it's also created an environment that's produced a 128-16 record from this senior class. And they're hardly done.

Snicker that.

"It's pretty simple," said assistant coach Ashley Howard. "I mean, when you walk into the (Davis Center), we have it on the wall: Attitude. Everyone knows the values we live by. All the time. We play hard, we play together and we play right. You dive on the floor, you take a charge, you pick your teammate off the floor. We take pride in being a Villanova basketball player.

"You have to have the players. But our core beliefs help us be successful. There's sacrifices, and compromises, they have to make. If our guys didn't embrace it, they wouldn't be here. I'm sure other programs have things they value. Our right way might not be their right way. We just feel if we're doing what coach wants, good things will happen."

You want a definition of VB? A few years ago in their opening game of the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats were up by a bunch with about a minute left when Ryan Arcidiacano sprinted the length of the court chasing down a loose ball that didn't need to be chased down. But he went for the diving save anyway. And he wound up sliding hard into the backboard support. He didn't get up right away, which made you question why he did what he did in such a meaningless moment. When we asked him, he looked at us as if we'd asked him why he bothered breathing.

"It's what we do," he said. "And we don't stop doing it because we're up 20 or down 20 or it's the last minute. We don't know any other way."

What else do you need to compute?

"We take every possession serious," said third-year sophomore Mikal Bridges. "It's every little thing you do. If you don't, everyone's going to get on you. It's the details.

"The first time (Wright) talked to me, he talked about playing Villanova Basketball. He said that's how it is here. It depends how your mindset is. I wanted to be a team player and I wanted to win. Every guy feeds off that. It's right for us. If we do it for 40 minutes, we're going to be hard to beat."

It's having a McDonald's All-America such as Jalen Brunson come to the Main Line, even though he knew he'd have to coexist with Arcidiacono for a season. And never once say a word about it.

"You can't always see what's going to happen," said Brunson, who's now one of the best point guards in the country. "We're not perfect. But as long as we're together, we can take on any challenge.

"I came here to be part of something special. I got what I asked for. As soon as you step foot on campus, or you go to the locker room, you know. It's one thing to say it. You have to believe it. That's what coach is about."

Is there a Duke Basketball, or Kansas or North Carolina? There is a Butler Way. And the Bulldogs did sweep Villanova in the regular season. Was there a Hofstra Basketball, when Wright was getting to the NCAA tourney with Speedy Claxton? As a matter of fact, yes.

"It's hard to describe," said senior Josh Hart, a possible national player of the year. "You hear about the culture, but you have to buy into it. We're not sexy. But we have guys who could go somewhere else and be the man. This is what we wanted. Nothing changes. Kris (Jenkins) hits the shot (to win the title last year) and he's still the same. We don't care who gets to shine.

"You can play hard for 38 or 39 minutes. That's not enough. Because if you don't do it all the time, how are you going to do it when there's 30 seconds left and you need to make a play? By then it's too late."

Maybe it's as a Supreme Court justice once duly noted: You can't define it, but you know it when you see it.

And it mostly looks good on them.

"It's having a consistency," Wright said. "When I started at Hofstra, I was all over the place. We tried to do everything. When you get to where your older guys are demanding it and teaching it, that makes it easier.

"It's not complicated. It's just a commitment level, playing unselfishly, understanding who you represent, taking responsibility for your effort and playing for the guys who came before you.

"I know you guys have to keep hearing it so often, it gets old. It's not normal. We get that. But it's not the words. It's the accountability that has to go with them."

Whether you're losing in the second round or hoisting a trophy. Because, as Howard stressed, in Wright's way there can be honor in both.

kernm@phillynews.com

@mikekerndn