NCAA championship: Jay Wright has options, and his best is to turn Villanova into Duke 2.0
NBA teams would hire Jay Wright, as would even-larger college powers, but why leave?
SAN ANTONIO -- Jay Wright came here with one of the greatest collegiate offenses of all time, a well-oiled machine that was hurtling Villanova toward one of the finest five-year stretches in modern college basketball history.
Now, he's leaving San Antonio with his second national title in three years.
But look deeper and you'll see he's leaving with so much more:
• An assured place in the Hall of Fame. "It's just a matter of when they can start voting for him, and then he's a unanimous vote," Wildcats alum and current Chicago Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono said Monday night, after Villanova crushed Michigan 79-62.
• Blueblood status for his school. The toughest club to crack in college basketball is the blueblood club. It takes into account a program's sustained history of excellence as well as its current winning ways. Villanova won 165 games during this five-year stretch; that ties an all-time record. Since Villanova won its first national title in 1985, here are the programs that have won three or more national titles: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UConn. Wright has turned Villanova into a blueblood. Period.
• A free meal for life at any restaurant in the Delaware Valley. After his second title in three years, Wright is the toast of America's toughest sporting town, achieving greatness at the same time other Philadelphia sports franchises are doing the same: The Eagles winning the Super Bowl, the Sixers being the NBA's most exciting young team, the Flyers likely bounding toward another playoff berth. Wright will go down as a Philadelphia sporting icon.
• A statue on the leafy campus of Villanova University, should he want it. Just a few years ago, Wright was addled with the "can't-win-in-March" moniker. Now he's on the short list of the greatest coaches in the game. Only three actives coaches have multiple national titles: Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Wright.
The question moving forward is this:
Will Wright stay at Villanova for life and keep building this program he has led since 2001? Or will he take the plunge and take a job in the NBA, which has for a bit of time been a rumor around him?
Here's my guess: He stays. He continues recruiting players who fit the character of this Villanova program. He becomes Coach K 2.0, and he turns Villanova into Duke 2.0.
That certainly was the tune he was singing after cutting down the nets on Monday night.
"I just have the best job in the country," Wright said, glowing. "I'm in my hometown, my wife's alma mater, my favorite team growing up. ... I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great kids to coach. As a coach, there's just nothing better."
Wright is only 56. Let's say he stays at Villanova for another decade-plus. The old guard of coaches is soon to retire; Wright could take over the mantle that Coach K currently occupies as the face of the sport, the wizened sage who can speak for all of college basketball. A coach who has built this program on three- and four-year players -- a coach who is widely considered one of the guys who does things "the right way" -- can serve as a guide for a sport that is going through dark times.
As they mingled on the court Monday night in the midst of celebrating, two of the stars from Villanova's 2016 title team hoped that he'd stay forever.
"I hope so," said Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart, a 2017 All-American for Wright. "He has such a legacy here, such a footprint. We love him. We don't want him to go. It's such a great culture. Everyone says, 'Oh yeah, we're a family.' But when you see when someone falls down and four guys sprint to go pick him up, that's a winning culture. That's a brotherhood. Not everybody does that. People say it. But we believe it.
"Coach Wright's the best coach in the country, period," Hart continued. "You can take guys like (MB), guys like me, turn them into national champions, not highly recruited and turn them into NBA players. He's not a big one-and-done guy. He doesn't get the best players in the country. He takes guys who are underrecruited, talented guys, high-character guys, and turns them into great basketball players."
Arcidiacono agreed: Wright should stay at Villanova forever.
"If he's got it rolling like this," he said, "why not?"
Maybe Wright wants the challenge of the NBA. (There's no way he's leaving Villanova for another collegiate job, by the way; this job is the perfect job for him.) Maybe he feels like he's done everything he can at the collegiate level and wants to try something else. Maybe there's more money there, or an ego tickle.
But I doubt it. Jay Wright is a man of authenticity. "It's amazing how much authenticity can carry you," Wright said Monday night. And I don't expect his career to carry him anywhere outside of Villanova, which he has built into the top program in college basketball over the past five years, and which is the perfect place for Jay Wright to keep building that legacy.
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