Sitting in a director’s chair on a stage at Dilworth Park, wearing black gloves and sunglasses, Jay Wright basked Thursday in the warmth of having heard tens of thousands of spectators and fans cheer his Villanova Wildcats as their parade crawled along Market Street.
The second parade in three years to honor Villanova as national champion ended with a rally on a chilly, windy day. Wright talked about how proud the Wildcats were “to represent the Big Five, the Big East, and most importantly, the great city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia basketball, which has the greatest tradition in our country.”
Later, the coach reflected on a whirlwind week that began late Monday night after the Wildcats put the finishing touches on a 79-62 victory over Michigan in the national title game in San Antonio.
“This seems like a really amazing culmination,” he said. “It just feels so perfect to finish it here in Philly, at City Hall, with this crowd. I don’t think it could have ended any better.”
The captains of Villanova’s 2018 team – Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, and Mikal Bridges – felt the same way. They took turns holding the national championship trophies awarded by the NCAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, as well as the trophy they received for winning the East Region.
“The feeling is amazing,” Booth said. “The fans are the best. I definitely can’t tell which parade was better, this or 2016. The fans were great here. It felt just like last time, just as loud as last time, just as supportive. It doesn’t get any better.”
Brunson and Bridges are expected to decide in the coming days to make themselves available for the NBA draft. Meanwhile, Booth is prepared to take over the primary leadership role next year while he studies for a master’s degree.
In fact, Wright told the crowd during the rally that Booth has won “two national championships and he’s going to come back and try to get a third.”
“We talked about it all throughout the season about coming back next year,” said Booth, who scored a team-high 20 points in the 2016 national championship game victory over North Carolina. “This year was a big year for me trying to become a leader my first time, and he helped me out a lot with that. We’ve got a good team coming back next year, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Brunson, Bridges, and redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, the most outstanding player of the Final Four after his 31-point output in the championship game, all said they have no timetable for making a decision about the NBA.
“Honestly, my decision hasn’t been made,” said Brunson, winner of multiple player-of-the-year awards. “I still have a lot of thinking to do.”
Wright said he wanted to make sure his players treasured the week, including those who have to make a decision about advancing to the next level.
“They are putting everything off to try to enjoy this week,” he said. “Then next week, we’ll talk about it.”
Wright, Brunson, and Bridges later left City Hall and headed for the airport to board a flight to Los Angeles for the Wooden Award ceremonies on Friday night, when Wright will be honored as coach of the year and Brunson as player of the year.
But the trip could wait a couple of more minutes. Wright wanted to soak in the cheers one last time.
“It’s incredible, it’s beyond a dream come true,” he said. “I never dreamt of having a parade in Philadelphia. I’d always go as a fan. So when we went in ’16 and we’re coming down here to City Hall, I thought, ‘I got this. This is enough for me.’
“To be here the second time is incredible. I don’t know if I’ve really wrapped my arms around it and I really don’t want to. I think I want to concentrate on getting ready for next year and let these kids enjoy it. I know there will be a time at the end of my career when I look back and say, ‘They were some incredible years, man.’ ”