The ovation could be heard outside the closed doors of the practice court Tuesday at the Davis Center, Villanova players and coaches welcoming back injured co-captain Phil Booth from four weeks on the sidelines.
Booth, a redshirt junior guard, participated in his first full practice since suffering a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand late in a Jan. 23 game against Providence. Other than being “out of shape a little bit,” he said things went well and that he will play Wednesday night against DePaul at Wells Fargo Center.
“Everything felt great, my hand felt great,” Booth said. “I’m ready to go for tomorrow.”
Coach Jay Wright said Booth, who started all 20 games Villanova had played prior to his injury, will come off the bench Wednesday night and that he will monitor Booth to see how he reacts “when the ball hits his hand, what he looks like.”
But in practice, Wright said he looked “good, really good.”
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “We’ll be careful with him [against DePaul]. I’ve got to see how he looks out there. But I couldn’t have asked for anything better. For not practicing and just coming in like that today, he looked pretty good.”
Teammate Jalen Brunson said it meant a lot to the team to have Booth back.
“It shows how much hard work he’s put in just to get back to this point,” Brunson said. “Obviously we’re excited to have another captain and another guy with experience back on the court, so it’s only going to make us better.”
The road back
Booth did not spend all of his idle time on the sidelines. He would work after practice with his left hand – pounding the dribble and mostly practicing short shots. He said he also attempted some three-point shots, doing “anything I could to keep myself going, trying to stay in shape as much as I could.”
During practices and games, he would provide encouragement and boost the confidence of the Wildcats’ freshmen. Wright said Booth started acting like a coach.
“He started talking to the guys, staying around me,” he said. “I felt he got an even deeper appreciation for what we do.
“Maybe I would say something to the freshmen in a not-so-friendly way and he would grab them and positively pump them up and give them the same message. He did a really good job of it.”
Booth’s return means that Villanova will have a full roster Wednesday night for the first time in a game since its Dec. 5 victory over Gonzaga. Freshman guard Collin Gillespie fractured a bone in his left hand on Dec. 8 and missed eight games. Freshman forward Jermaine Samuels suffered a broken bone in his left hand in the first matchup against DePaul on Dec. 28 and sat out 10 contests.
“Today was our first practice where we had everybody back in a long, long time,” Wright said. “I can’t even remember how long. It was kind of fun. Our freshmen got to play a lot. I hope they’ve gotten a lot better where they really add to our depth.”
— Jay Wright (@VUCoachJWright) January 24, 2018