For Villanova's Eric Paschall, defense is the name of the game

Providence's Rodney Bullock falling as Villanova's Eric Paschall (4) blocks his shot during the Big East title game.

There were times in Eric Paschall’s basketball past when defense was just something that other players did. He admits that “growing up, I used to be a great defender, and I just stopped.”

However, after three years in the Villanova program, the first sitting out as a transfer from Fordham and the last two as a versatile member of the starting lineup, Paschall has become perhaps the Wildcats’ most valued defender, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound junior who can guard big men and point guards with equal proficiency.

Even his father, Juan Paschall, is impressed.

“Yeah, my dad has made fun of my defense so much, and now he’s like, ‘Since when did you become a great defensive player?’” Paschall said with a laugh. “He’s seen me grow up. Coming here, coach [Jay] Wright has done a great job teaching me how to be a great defender.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Eric Paschall, left, and Mikal Bridges of Villanova celebrate after a Bridges 3-pointer forced Providence to call a timeout during the 1st half in the Big East Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2018.

While the Wildcats (30-4) have put up some terrific offensive numbers, the defensive end is something that Wright has emphasized all season. He feels that it’s improving as his team prepares for its opening game of the NCAA tournament on Thursday against either LIU-Brooklyn or Radford in Pittsburgh.

Paschall was a scorer in his only season at Fordham, averaging 15.9 points and being named Atlantic Ten rookie of the year. But after head coach Tom Pecora was fired, he decided to transfer and landed at Villanova, where he spent most of his year away from competition learning the way of how the Cats play defense.

It was an eye-opener.

“I did nothing but defense,” he said. “We’d do probably 15 minutes of offense and the other 45 is all working on your defense. I see the results now of being a defensive player. It helps a lot.

“I like playing defense. I take a lot of pride in it. Defensively, I never was very happy to play defense but now it’s like I look forward to playing defense. I really enjoy it now.”

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Rodney Bullock, left, of Providence and Eric Paschall of Villanova go after a rebound during the 2nd half in the Big East Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2018.

Wright, who recruited Paschall out of St. Thomas More Prep in Oakdale, Conn., understood that Paschall’s value at Fordham was as the team’s top scorer and thus he could not get into foul trouble. But when Paschall was looking at Villanova as a potential new school, Wright gave to him straight.

“We explained, ‘Look, this is what this program is, we want you to be a complete player,” the coach said. “We want you to defend. We want you to rebound. We want you to score. We want you to make good decisions, get assists. Is that what you want to be? And he was all in. We told him honestly what it was going to be, and that’s what he wanted. Once we got him, it was easy.

The “easy” part for Wright and his staff became how willing Paschall was to be coached.

“He’s as coachable as anybody we’ve ever had,” Wright said. “Everything you ask him, everything that you suggest he could improve upon, he does. It’s amazing.”

Wright said the improvement isn’t just long-term. It’s also within a single game, as when his coach asked him to go to the offensive glass more in Saturday’s Big East title game against Providence, and he responded with six of his 13  rebounds at that end.

Paschall had averaged less than five rebounds per game this season entering the conference tournament but pulled down 9.0 per game last weekend.

“It’s just trying to be a madman,” he said. “When it comes to rebounding, I feel like it’s about effort. There’s a lot of technique in it in the way we teach it but you’ve got to get the ball. My dad is helping me as well just being a madman, go out there, give it your all and play hard.”

Paschall’s shooting has improved as well. He got off to a rocky start this season, making just 1 of 25 three-point attempts in his first 13 games. Since then, however, he is shooting 46.2 percent clip, and he finished fourth in Big East conference games at 45.7.

Paschall gives credit to his father and to his mother, Cecelia Brooks-Paschall, for inspiring him. He said his father, “who played a little ball in community college,” has been a big help to him with basketball.

“He texts me every day,” he said. “He doesn’t really critique me. He lets the coaches do all that. He just says his little advice, but he’s been a great father.”

And he’s no longer making fun of his son’s defense.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Eric Paschall of Villanova carries a sign after Villanova defeated Providence in the Big East Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2018. Phil Booth is right.