Jay Wright’s retirement from coaching Villanova basketball was tough to take. What does it mean for the future of the program and what will be next for Jay?
Jay Wright’s retirement has been a huge shock to the basketball world. What will be next for Villanova basketball?
In the world of college basketball, a quiet Wednesday night in mid-April became very loud in a hurry when Villanova men’s coach Jay Wright shocked the industry by announcing his impending retirement after 21 seasons, 520 wins, two national championships, and four Final Four appearances on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Wright resigned only 18 days after guiding the Wildcats to a Final Four defeat in New Orleans to eventual national champion Kansas.
While the world waits for word from Wright, ESPN’s college basketball team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, and Joe Lunardi discussed Wright’s accomplishments, where his retirement ranks in college basketball history, and what’s next for a storied Villanova program set to hand the reins over to ex-Villanova assistant and Fordham head coach Kyle Neptune:
What will Jay Wright’s college basketball legacy be? Are you in the Big East? Are you a Villanova student?
The most popular subject on sports radio in Philadelphia the day following Villanova’s latest Final Four appearance was uncharacteristically sensible: Is Jay Wright the best coach in Philadelphia history, regardless of sport or level? The explanation is as reasonable in light of the stunning news of Wright’s retirement. If Jay isn’t the first choice, he’ll be at the bottom of the list.
Let’s begin with Villanova. Steve Lappas, Al Severance, Jack Kraft, Rollie Massimino All have significant legacies, notably Massimino’s incredible NCAA championship in 1985. Wright completes a loop around the track.
Harry Litwack, Dr. Jack Ramsay, Tom Gola, Chuck Daly, Massimino, and John Chaney are just a few of the iconic Philadelphia Big 5 coaches. Many are giants in the city and beyond, but as a college coach, Wright topped them all.
What do Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, and Massimino have in common? They are Big East legends, having made many Final Four trips and winning a national title. Wright outperformed them all and earned an Olympic gold medal on top of it.
Wright, not his instructor Massimino, might be said to have destroyed the Big 5 simply by being too talented. Or that Wright was the one who resurrected the Big East a decade ago. Villanova only won two national titles, collected three No. 1 seeds, and went well over five complete seasons without losing two games in a row in the first five years of the “new” Big East. Consider that for a moment.
College basketball has lost one of the best coaches and ambassadors in the nation. Despite the suits and adoring admirers, Jay Wright has shown to be a formidable opponent and a brilliant intellect. That is where winning began, and it is something that no sport can ever match. Lunardi’s words
Jay Wright took a storied Villanova program and catapulted it to new heights. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Tom Pennington
What do you think Wright’s greatest accomplishment at Villanova was? What do you think is the most underappreciated aspect of his collegiate basketball legacy?
His best success, in my opinion, was winning the national championship in 2017-18. I believe we will remember the 2015-16 victory as a miracle effort from a team that produced one of the most famous buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history. Kris Jenkins won’t have to pay for another dinner in Philly now that he’s won the 2016 championship. But 2018 was a different story.
Villanova has already beaten superior Tennessee and Gonzaga teams before reaching the national tournament. The squad only lost one game after Valentine’s Day (an overtime fight against Creighton) the rest of the way. The Wildcats won every game in the NCAA tournament by double digits, including a 17-point victory against Michigan in the championship game. That was one of the most dominating runs in NCAA tournament history in recent years. It was also a statement: Villanova had ushered in the blue-blood country club with its second victory in three years, ensuring that the Power 5 would be renamed the “Power 6,” with the Big East gaining a berth.
His ability to create NBA players is the most underappreciated aspect of his career. After you get beyond the colleges that have prospered in the one-and-done era, there aren’t many programs that have had more players find slots in NBA rotations in recent years than Wright’s. Kyle Lowry is a five-time NBA All-Star who has appeared in more games than any other Villanova player. This season, Saddiq Bey averaged 16.7 points per game for the Detroit Pistons. The Dallas Mavericks’ Jalen Brunson is a dependable point guard. With the Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges was a finalist for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Dante Cunningham got $20 million after bouncing around the league for over a decade. Josh Hart has agreed to a three-year, $37 million contract. Those who completed Wright’s curriculum were not only eligible to play at the next level, but they were also prepared to compete once they arrived. That’s an aspect of his legacy that ought to be highlighted more. Medcalf —
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige shoots a game-tying 3-pointer on April 4, 2016, but is surpassed by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, who hits a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the championship.
Where does Wright’s retirement rank among the most stunning college basketball retirements of all time?
In terms of shock value, Wright’s retirement or job shift, or whatever it is, is at the top of the list. Reaching the age of 60 in a traditional profession implies it’s time to start thinking about the next chapter. Successful college basketball coaches, on the other hand, do not work in ordinary occupations. Wright, 60, is approximately 17 years Jim Boeheim’s junior, 13 years Leonard Hamilton’s junior, and 12 years Jim Larranaga’s junior. The conventional operating procedure after you’ve reached Wright’s level is to keep going until you’re in your 60s. Instead, he seems to have concluded that two national crowns are enough.
To discover something like to what Wright has just done, you may have to go back almost half a century. When Al McGuire revealed in December 1976 that he would be stepping down as Marquette’s head coach at the conclusion of that season, he surprised a lot of people. McGuire was just 48 years old at the time. Even yet, McGuire’s precedence pales in comparison to Wright’s departure. We now know that Marquette won the national championship that season. McGuire had no idea ahead of time, and his squad came dangerously near to missing out on the NCAA tournament’s 32-team bracket. Wright, on the other hand, is well aware of his legacy and the implications of his action. This is a huge surprise. — Mr. Gasaway
During his one season as head coach at Fordham, Kyle Neptune garnered significant praise for his efforts. Icon Sportswire/John Jones photo
What should college basketball fans know about Kyle Neptune, Wright’s successor?
Neptune, who is just 37 years old and has only one year of head-coaching experience, will be replacing a Hall of Famer. It will be surprising to see someone else on the bench, as it was with Jon Scheyer at Duke and Hubert Davis at North Carolina. Neptune, on the other hand, should be well-versed in Villanova culture. From 2008 to 2010, he worked as a video coordinator for Wright for two seasons before moving on to Niagara for three seasons under Joe Mihalich. In 2013, Neptune rejoined the Wildcats as an assistant coach. He stayed in that post for eight years, earning two national championships and cementing his place as the next in a long line of Wright assistants to be promoted to head coach.
When Neptune was chosen head coach at Fordham last spring, he earned that opportunity. He finished 16-16 overall and 8-10 in the Atlantic 10 in his one season with the Rams. While those figures may not pop out at you, keep in mind that Fordham only won two games in 2020-21 and hasn’t won eight A-10 games since 2015-16. Borzello’s words
Will Villanova’s next phase be a success? Who will be back for the Wildcats in 2022-23?
Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree were among the five seniors on Villanova’s Final Four squad this season. Only Gillespie and Samuels are no longer eligible after the NCAA gave every student-athlete a free year because of the pandemic-affected 2020-21 season. Justin Moore is the only player who is guaranteed to return, despite the fact that his ruptured right Achilles tendon, which he sustained in the Elite Eight, will keep him out permanently. Eric Dixon, a fellow starter, is also returning. The remainder of the roster, on the other hand, is riddled with unanswered questions. Throughout the most of the season, Wright only utilized six players, and only one of them (Dixon) is fit and expected to return. This past season, Bryan Antoine, Chris Arcidiacono, and Jordan Longino played different positions on the perimeter, while Trey Patterson and Nnanna Njoku played different roles in the frontcourt. Those five guys, however, did not average more than 1.8 points per game or play more than 10 minutes each game.
Three freshmen will join Villanova, including five-star big Cameron Whitmore and ESPN 100 point guard Mark Armstrong. Brendan Hausen, a four-star shooting guard, completes the group. Borzello’s words
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