SAN ANTONIO — Arch would really love to be here.
Ryan Arcidiacono, the point guard who built the current Villanova winning machine, would love to come back to Texas and give the Wildcats a locker-room speech before their national semifinal game Saturday night. He would love to watch his old road roommate, Jalen Brunson, take Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham to school.
Arch can’t come. He’s finishing his second year as a pro, as a backup with the Bulls. He hasn’t attended a Villanova game since he graduated with the national title in 2016. He has games on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, so he won’t be sitting next to Kris Jenkins in a TV studio and reliving “The Shot” that Jenkins hit two years ago; the shot made possible by Arcidiacono’s selfless style of play.
Villanova’s selfless style of play. It’s why Villanova won in 2016. It’s why Brunson, now a junior, and Villanova have returned.
Jenkins might have hit the shot, but the play was all Arch.
“We had a timeout, and we basically told him, ‘Win the game for us,’ ” Jenkins said.
North Carolina had tied the score with 4.7 seconds to play. The plan: Arch receives an inbounds pass, gets a screen at midcourt, races to the top of the key, and either shoots or passes to Jenkins, trailing on the right.
The plan worked. Arch found himself loosely covered by two defenders. He had a decision to make.
“I don’t think I’d have had a great look. I had an OK look,” he said Friday morning, groggily, from the Bulls’ hotel in Orlando. “Kris? Kris had a great look.”
So instead of taking the only game-winning shot in NCAA finals history, Arch made the better basketball play. He passed to Jenkins.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Arch said.
Not for a Villanova Wildcat. Not in 2016. Not in 2018, either.
“It’s what our program is about,” Jenkins said. “You have a senior leader in Arch, who’s hit game-winners before for our program. Who’s elevated our program.”
That elevation happens only if players such as Arch do the right thing almost all the time. Sometimes that means taking the shot, but often it means deferring. Jenkins finished in 2017, and he played professionally the past few months, but he’s in town as part of TBS’s coverage team because Arcidiacono decided that Jenkins, who was scorching hot in the tournament, would be the better choice to take The Shot.
“Our program is where it is because of guys like Ryan Arcidiacono,” Jenkins said. “It only mattered to him to make what he thought was the right play.”
The primary personnel has changed, but that philosophy remains the same.
On Feb. 17, Villanova was ranked third in the country; Xavier, hosting, was ranked fourth. By the final minute, the game no longer was in question — Brunson, by then a strong candidate for player of the year, had engineered an easy win — but Brunson had scored only 11 points. Wright called a play for Brunson. After all, two or three more points certainly wouldn’t hurt Brunson’s candidacy. The best-made plans …
“He had a shot at the end. He didn’t take it,” Wright marveled. “He gave it to Eric Paschall for a dunk. I showed the team afterward, I said, ‘Look at this kid. If anybody had a chance of player of the year, and you had that shot, to pass it up?’ ”
Brunson never gave it a thought.
“I came off the screen ready to shoot the ball, but Eric was open at the last second, so I just hit him,” Brunson said. “I was just trying to make the right play at the right time. That was the right play.”
Making the right play is in Brunson’s DNA, and Wright knows it.
“That’s just the way Coach Wright recruits, to be honest,” Arcidiacono said. “He gets guys who realize that to get recognition, you get recognition for the team, by winning.”
Brunson is an Associated Press first-team all-American, the AP Player of the Year, the Oscar Robertson Trophy winner from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith Award, the Heisman trophies of basketball.
“All the individual success I’ve been having, it’s a part of how well our team’s been doing,” Brunson said. “Your team and your coaches — just focus on how hard you’re playing for them. You’d be surprised what comes your way.”
The next level
Winning the Villanova way put Arcidiacono where he is now. He is a capable player, but the heightened basketball IQ and the selflessness he developed at Villanova got him paid the past two seasons.
He mainly has played in the NBA’s developmental league, now called the NBA G League. He struggled with the Austin Spurs last season, but he built up his body over the summer and starred with the Windy City Bulls this season: 13.8 points, 8.6 assists in 37 games, all starts. He made 45.1 percent of his three-pointers. It has earned him 17 NBA games so far for the Chicago Bulls, who hold his rights for next season.
Arcidiacono spoke Friday with the pre-noon, road-weary rasp of pro athletes everywhere: jet-lagged, dehydrated and homesick. It would be nice to see some familiar faces, but the Bulls will be back in Chicago on Saturday and they’ll play Sunday and Tuesday, so Arch can’t fly to San Antonio. He texts with Wright, and has spoken with Brunson and guard Donte DiVincenzo via FaceTime this week, and he said he might search Twitter for a Villanova-friendly bar, or he might just stay home to watch the games.
He has a career to nurture. He has played more than 20 minutes just once with the Bulls, and he has scored 22 points, total. It’s Arch’s turn to be patient. He learned how from Brunson.
In 2014, Brunson was a five-star recruit with Philly pedigree, the son of former Temple star and NBA veteran Rick Brunson. He had a pick of programs. Why would he choose Villanova, where Arch was entrenched as a starter? Because Brunson breathes Villanova basketball.
“At first, it was very hard,” Brunson said. “I just tried to fit in. It’s definitely hard. It’s definitely something that most players who had the same accolades as me wouldn’t want to do. They want the ball in their hands. They want to run the show.”
It was Arch’s show.
“It was never an issue,” said Arcidiacono, who hosted Brunson during his recruiting visit. “Jalen and I hit it off immediately. I got him to commit. The kid stayed on the couch in my damn room on his visit, not in the hotel. The next spring, he texted me after Duke beat Wisconsin in the  national championship game: ‘Next year. That’s gonna be us next year.’ ”
And so it was.
This time, Brunson’s on his own.