No, Jay Wright insisted, his trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis I this week was not a reward for leading Villanova to the national championship.
Wright and his wife, Patty, will accompany Villanova president the Rev. Peter M. Donohue and the university’s board of trustees for a private audience with the pope on Saturday. The trustees are conducting their spring meeting in Rome.
The coach was invited “maybe a month ago,” Wright said Wednesday. “When we accepted – and we were very excited about it – we never thought we’d be coming off a national championship going there.”
Wright, who will depart with his wife on Thursday, said he’s been preparing thoroughly for the meeting.
“Practicing my Italian, learning what to say to the pope,” he said. “I’ve got a nice black suit – you’ve got to wear all black. And I’ll try to be on my best behavior; that’s all I can do.”
Being a basketball coach, Wright noted that the trip comes in the middle of a recruiting period. But he couldn’t decline when Father Donohue, the board of trustees chairman, and his wife urged him to go.
“I was told I was going by all the people that I answer to in my life,” he joked.
Wright is accustomed to how busy life gets for a college basketball program and all the people involved after winning a national championship. He went through the same series of appearances and commitments after the 2016 team won it all and said he’s “a little bit more prepared for it” this time.
He said Villanova players will be in New York on Friday to ring the ball at the NASDAQ stock exchange.
Wright also is helping his players determine their possibilities in the NBA draft. Jalen Brunson declared Wednesday that he would bypass his final year of eligibility and enter the draft, one day after teammate Mikal Bridges did the same.
Wright said he is helping Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, and Phil Booth with information about the draft. Paschall and Booth have one year of eligibility remaining, DiVincenzo has two years, and Spellman has three years. They have until April 22 to enter their name in the process without an agent and still return to school if they withdraw by June 11. The draft will be held June 21.