Villanova’s Phil Booth did his best to lead from the sideline during the seven games he missed with a broken bone in his right (shooting) hand.
Now that he’s been back on the court for seven games, he has brought valuable experience and infectious energy to his team.
“He’s so valuable to us in terms of his intelligence, his leadership and to the morale of this team,” coach Jay Wright said Monday. “He’ll just keep getting better and better each time he plays. Intellectually, knowing what we’re doing defensively, is really good.
“I can see he’s not 100 percent yet, but I think we can get him there by Thursday.”
Thursday is when the Wildcats (30-4), the top seed in the East, begin NCAA tournament play in Pittsburgh against the winner of Tuesday night’s First Four game between a pair of 16 seeds, LIU-Brooklyn and Radford. Booth will be in the lineup willing to do whatever is necessary to help his team succeed.
As for his health, Booth said he’s close to being back to 100 percent, that he’s “getting healthy at the right time and getting used to game speed again.”
When Wright’s comment about his value to team morale was relayed to him, the 6-foot-3 redshirt junior replied, “That’s major.”
“These guys are my brothers, so we’re very close on and off the court,” he said. “You could see in the way we play and how unselfish we play how much we loved each other. So I just came in trying to pick the energy back up, just trying to make the team feel whole again.”
Booth will be playing in his first NCAA game since that unforgettable Monday night in April 2016 when he scored a then career-high 20 points in the Cats’ 77-74 win over North Carolina for the national championship. He sat out all but the first three games of last season with a chronic knee injury.
Booth said last year’s injury made him realize how fortunate he was to be able to come back from this year’s injury in a little less than a month.
“It was tough, but to be able to come back in the same season, I was very lucky,” he said. “So I kind of took it as, ‘OK, it’s a mini-break for me.’ But it was something I definitely leaned on my teammates for, just for their encouragement and positive thoughts to guide me through it.”
Booth has struggled a bit with his consistency on offense since returning. He totaled 29 points in his first two Big East tournament games last week but went scoreless (0 for 5) in 19 minutes in the Wildcats’ 76-66 overtime victory over Providence in the championship game.
“It’s just part of the game,” said Booth, who has averaged 8.9 points since his return, as compared to his season average of 10.9. “Some days you make shots, some days you don’t. You can’t really control it. You can control what you do defensively, what you do rebounding, talking, communicating. It’s taking care of the little things. The shots will take care of themselves.”
Booth’s teammates look forward to him being on the floor with them in the NCAAs for his talent and his leadership.
“It’s great to have Phil back,” guard Jalen Brunson said. “We’re just really excited. He’s healthy, most importantly. Just to have another captain with a lot of experience, it’s great.”