SAN ANTONIO – There appears to be a comfort factor with Jay Wright at the Final Four. Being part of college basketball’s showcase event three times over the last 10 years tends to make one at ease in such a bright spotlight.
The Villanova coach has handled multiple interviews over the last four days with grace and humor, including Sunday’s final get-together with reporters at the Alamodome prior to the Wildcats’ date on Monday night against Michigan with the national championship at stake.
It’s a balance, fulfilling all media obligations while making sure he has enough time to prepare his team for what could be its second NCAA title in the last three years. While he looks comfortable in public, he said the juggling act isn’t as easy as he makes it look.
“The challenge is to not miss out on the time with my family and my players,” Wright said Sunday. “I’m not complaining about it. It’s a great spot to be in. But there are so many more demands on your time. It’s your job so you have to do it. If that’s the toughest part of your job, it’s pretty good. This is fun.
“But it’s not good if it takes away from your family or your time with your players because that’s really your job – your time with your team and your coaches. It’s something that I struggle with. I try to do a good job. That’s why I’m sensitive about the question [of handling everything]. It’s a difficult challenge.”
Wright and his staff had been studying film of Michigan since returning to the hotel after Saturday night’s 95-79 victory over Kansas, a game in which the Wildcats drilled an NCAA tournament-record 18 three-pointers. It marked the fifth time since the field expanded to 64 that a team had won its first five games by double digits.
But preparation was interrupted for Wright to speak to the media and fulfill other commitments. The Wildcats’ closed practice Sunday began 1 hour, 45 minutes after he first arrived at the stadium.
“I’m not comfortable,” he said. “It’s a challenge. We met this morning, watched film, and I had to come over earlier. So I get a little paranoid about that. I want to make sure I do that job better than this job, but I know I have to do a good job at this.”
According to his players, however, the coach is consistent with how he approaches preparation and practice, even from the 2016 title season to this year.
“He’s the same,” forward Mikal Bridges said. “Nothing changes from when we were here two years ago. It’s always being locked in to where we’re at, always being ready for a two-game tournament, no matter what it was. He doesn’t change.”
Guard Phil Booth said Wright has been the same since Booth arrived at Villanova as a freshman, a year before the championship season.
“He’s the same coach – demanding, but he puts a lot of confidence in you,” he said. “He sees a lot of things in you that you might not see in yourself or in your game because he wants you to be the best player you can be. He coaches the same, coaches every game the same.”
Villanova’s performance throughout the tournament, especially in defeating Kansas, a fellow No. 1 seed, has people already fitting them for championship rings. But Wright knows that Michigan, with one of the top defenses in the nation, will give the Cats all they can handle.
Still, with all his Final Four experience, Wright can get a little wide-eyed about his team’s accomplishments.
“Sometimes you’re on the bus ride over and you look at the assistants and you’re like, ‘Can you believe this? Can you believe we’re here?’” Wright said. “That’s just the way we do it. And I really haven’t got my mind around the whole thing yet.
“I want to really keep my focus on just continuing to prepare for Michigan. Then I think I’ll try to get some type of understanding of what’s going on here the last three years, after it’s over.”