SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The recent numbers for Villanova are staggering: two national championships in the last three years, a team-record 36 victories this season with an offense that performed at near-record efficiency levels, a five-year record of 165-21 during which time the Wildcats never have lost back-to-back games.
How has Jay Wright managed to build a program like this and sustain it over a significant period of time?
Certainly much of it is recruiting the right kind of player to accept the style and beliefs relative to what he calls “Villanova basketball.” But there’s also “a chart,” he said, that maps out that examines the current roster and what the Wildcats’ needs might be going forward.
“We have a chart with three years out, and then a list under the chart of all the players we’re recruiting,” the Wildcats coach said early Tuesday morning after his team defeated Michigan, 79-62, in the national championship game.
“We have a roster of our team on that chart that we all carry with us and we change it based on our guys’ play. We’ll list the guy – like Jalen (Brunson) as a senior this year so we knew that guy’s going to go (to the NBA). Even if he’s not, even if he might not, we list him where we think he’s going to recruiting for that spot.
“We’re constantly changing it, always got a date at the top. As Mikal (Bridges) starts playing really well this year, all right, he’s gone, you move him up a year. We know we’ve got to fill that spot. So we’re always doing that and evaluating our young people. The young guys, ‘OK, is this guy going to be good enough next year to be a starter?’ We call it roster structuring, talk about it every day.”
The transition has been seamless
Although he started, Brunson, along with Bridges and Phil Booth, were role players on the 2016 championship team that featured seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, and juniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. This season, it’s been Nova’s three B’s that have led, with Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall fitting into their roles.
Three promising freshmen — Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels — have learned the Villanova way and are ready to compete for meatier roles next year.
It’s a culture of finding the right players, working them in slowly and developing them with the belief that they will grow in the program and take over the leadership when the time comes.
“I hope that honesty that we use in recruiting is what enables us to do that without controversy,” Wright said. “It’s not perfect all the time, but we’re honest with guys when they come in. They know the upperclassmen in our program are respected. They know that they’re going to have to earn their playing time.
“The guys that choose Villanova usually want that. They want the competitiveness to prove themselves. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Brunson said the program’s sustainability is based on Wright’s “mentality of recruiting.”
“He recruits great young men, not just on the basketball court but in the classroom and obviously as a person,” he said. “We’re very intelligent on and off the floor. I think that’s a credit to just making sure he gets the right people for our program. Not everyone is fit for it. It’s just the type of person that we are.”
The success has been steady
There have been bumps on the road, such as NCAA second-round disappointments as a 1 or a 2 seed three times in the last five years. But the tournament can be unpredictable, as witnessed by Villanova’s romp through the six games this year by an average margin of 17.7 points.
Two national championships in three seasons. Does that make Villanova an elite program?
“We’re not going to call ourselves that, but if people (in the media) say it, then we are getting there,” Wright said. “We don’t really judge ourselves on being called elite. We just ourselves on how the guys do in school, how they grow as men and how we play night-in and night-out.
“But when the media calls you a blueblood, we’re not turning it down. We’ll take it.”