PITTSBURGH — With freshman stars such as Trae Young of Oklahoma, Collin Sexton of Alabama and Duke’s Fantastic Four of Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, the issue of “one-and-done” was bound to be a topic of conversation during the NCAA Tournament games at PPG Paints Arena.
Still, Villanova is the only No. 1 seed here in western Pennsylvania, and rather than first-year players, coach Jay Wright has a roster strong with red-shirt freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
Junior point guard and Naismith Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson is the only one of the Wildcats’ top-five scorers in his original class status.
Wright has always said he has nothing against potential one-and-done players. He recruits them and said he would love to have one commit to his program. It just hasn’t happened.
“I never tell those guys, ‘You shouldn’t come here,’ ” said Wright, who has seen only Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry declare for the NBA draft before completing his junior season. “I tell them this is what this is. This is what we do. And … you have to want to enjoy being in college.
“If you’re here two, three years and just be happy, you’ll love this place. But if you don’t, you probably won’t like it, and then they figure that out. They usually tell us no.”
The issue of building a team around likely one-and-done players is complicated. On one hand, these are players with potential NBA lottery-pick talent and could certainly carry a program to an NCAA title. But college basketball is also a team sport, and no matter how talented a group of freshmen might be, one season is generally not enough time to mold them into a championship unit.
It’s no surprise that 2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke are the only freshmen-dominated teams to win an NCAA title.
“You wish you could coach them longer,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who won his first four NCAA titles with veteran-led squads. “You’re not ever going to coach them to the level that they will be at, but can you get them to a very high level where they can be successful in this environment.”
Wright has as many NCAA titles as each of the one-and-done teams, but by managing to develop freshmen into juniors and seniors, he recently joined Kansas coach Bill Self as the only active Division I coaches with four consecutive 30-win seasons. Kentucky coach John Calipari had four straight 30-win seasons when he was at Memphis, but one was vacated as part of NCAA sanctions.
Perhaps Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams summed it up best when he was asked about one-and-done compared to keeping players for a while.
“It would be hard to argue with what has transpired at Kentucky and Duke relative to talent,” Williams said. “I think it takes a unique gift to coach those guys.
“It’s a different gift than the gift that Coach Wright has, because the consistency of Villanova at the level they’ve performed at, it’s not the same manner that Kentucky and Duke went about those things.
“It’s just as unique of a gift, though, to develop those guys, and get as old as you can and stay as old as you can. Those guys continue to improve, and you’re staying in national championship-contender status.
“So, different ways to skin a cat, for sure, but the gift that Jay Wright has, in my opinion, is just as unique as the gift that Coach Cal has, just completely different.”