Josh Hart says Villanova 'gave everything we could'

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Villanova guard Josh Hart (3) checks the scoreboard in the closing seconds of their 65-62 loss to West Virginia in a second-round men's college basketball game against Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 18, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Villanova's three seniors, a class that helped lead the program to 129 wins and a national championship, arrived as a group Monday at the Davis Center's practice court after what had to be a tough end-of-the-season meeting two days after the elimination of the Wildcats from the NCAA tournament.

But as disappointed as they were, the players - Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds - felt as if they had given everything they had throughout the team's 32-4 season, one that ended Saturday in Buffalo with a 65-62 second-round loss to Wisconsin.

Even though they fell short of a repeat, the seniors felt the Wildcats had reached the goal that coach Jay Wright sets at the start of every season, that they were playing their best basketball at the end of the year.

"We gave everything we could," said Hart, the team's national player of the year candidate and a possible first-round NBA draft pick. "I think we were playing the best basketball we could have. You've got to give Wisconsin credit. They're a tough, talented, very experienced team. That's how it is. I think we were playing our best basketball. We just ran into a good team."

"We fought to the end and we had our chances to win the game, so that's all you can ask for," Jenkins said. "No one gave up, no one quit. We left it all out there for each other. I do think that we were playing the best that we could. We gave it all we had. We just fell a little short."

Wright said he felt good about how well the Wildcats were playing late, starting with their Big East tournament championship and into the NCAAs.

"I felt good about our effort and about the way we played," he said. "There are things in the game we could have done better, but we give Wisconsin credit.

"We just kept battling. I just thought it was a great game. We look at the things we can learn from and there are a lot of things we can learn. We're very disappointed, but we're in no way discouraged where our program is."

The seniors now look forward to their future, and Wright looks ahead to the future of the Wildcats. As for his own future and whether it includes any flirtation with the NBA, Wright twice said, "I love it here."

"When people talk to you about a job, it's flattering," he said. "We all like to feel like we're wanted. But honestly, I'd like it better if it wouldn't happen because I know I don't want to go. I love it here. I'm very happy here and I plan to be staying at Villanova."

The same may not apply to Jalen Brunson. The sophomore point guard attracted the attention of NBA scouts who flocked to Villanova games, averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists and shooting better than 54 percent from the field, and could be moving on.

Wright said he would be speaking to Brunson's parents "in the next day or so." Brunson's father, Rick, played at Temple and in the NBA, and now is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Jalen's dad's got a great feel, so they don't really need my advice, and I trust any decision they would make," Wright said.

Wright also revealed that junior guard Phil Booth, who missed all but the first three games this season with left knee inflammation, was practicing with the team late in the season and "he looked great." He said he is confident Booth will be 100 percent healthy next year.

Still, it's difficult to say goodbye to the seniors. In fact, it's difficult for the seniors to say goodbye to one another, as articulated by Reynolds.

"The camaraderie, man, you can't put a price on that," he said. "This is the last time you'll be with a group of guys that have been this connected. After this point, this is a complete business, I guess that's the best way to put it.

"I guess more than anything, we're going to miss each other, the relationships we've built over these past couple of years, even with our old teammates who have graduated."

Then Reynolds, as his eyes appeared to start to mist, concluded, "That's about it for me."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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