Daniel Ochefu

Wizards center Daniel Ochefu carries Villanova pride with him in NBA

Wizards center Daniel Ochefu carries Villanova pride with him in NBA

Members of any championship team will tell you they have a bond for life with that particular group.

That’s certainly the case for former Villanova champs Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins, who are both playing with the Washington Wizards this summer.

“It would be real big for us,” Ochefu said to CSNPhilly.com in Las Vegas of possibly making the Wizards’ final roster with Jenkins. “We’ve both got to work to get to that point, but that would be real cool. It would be a real good story to tell.”

The story for Ochefu right now is simply hard work. He’s back in summer league action after spending the 2016-17 season with the Wizards. The big man played in 19 regular-season games and averaged 1.3 points and 1.2 rebounds in 3.9 minutes a night. Ochefu also made four appearances during the postseason.

Despite limited playing time throughout the season, the 6-11 center has shown growth in Vegas. Ochefu posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Wizards’ 91-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in Sin City last Saturday. He also added five blocks and three assists in 30 minutes.

Ochefu followed that performance up with six points on 3-for-3 shooting and two boards in 20 minutes during a 91-87 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday.

“I’m a guy that deserves to be on the roster for the rest of the year next year and got better over the summer,” Ochefu said of what he hopes to show the Wizards. “I’m just gonna continue working.”

That work ethic — and Villanova pride — are things Ochefu plans to carry on his entire career.

“Being able to go out with a national championship, I’ve got love for that place forever,” he said.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

As new season begins, Villanova 'not defending nothing'

As new season begins, Villanova 'not defending nothing'

VILLANOVA, Pa. — The walls around the perimeter of Villanova’s practice court inside the Davis Center leave no trace of what April wrought. 

There are and will be no banners. No pictures of Kris Jenkins’ picturesque release with the parade-inducing ball fluttering toward destiny. 

All reminders of Villanova’s first championship since 1985 are left in a trophy case in the lobby of the Davis Center, where a short video plays on repeat with Mischa Chillak’s “Ready Or Not,” providing the soundtrack.

Ready or not. Here I come. You can’t hide.

The Wildcats, who open their season Friday against Lafayette, aren’t hiding from their 2016 NCAA basketball championship. The point is, they aren’t out to defend it. What’s happened, happened.

So the walls will still feature the same old slogans and core values a Jay Wright-led program has become synonymous with. The most notable, and the one Wright uses so frequently: “Attitude.”

Not surprisingly, the attitude of the 2016-17 Villanova basketball team is to leave behind what last year’s team did. Not to forget it, but not to get caught up thinking about it.

“I don’t feel any pressure at all. Honestly. We’re not the defending national champions,” senior Josh Hart said. “They can’t take that away from us. That’s something that’s set in stone that no one will be able to take the ring off our fingers. So we’re not defending nothing. We’re a team who has the potential to make a deep run in March and April and that’s if we play Villanova basketball and just focus on getting better each and every day.”

That thought was echoed around the practice facility.

“We’re not out to defend the title,” sophomore guard Jalen Brunson said. “We’re out to get better as a team. If in the end we win another one, that’s great. But we won it last year and there’s no way they can take that from us. Last year is last year. We can remember it for the rest of our lives. But now it’s a new year with a new team.”

New team, sure. But they still have the same swagger and confidence and plenty of returning talent on the roster. And that makes them a real contender to repeat.

“That’s not something they lose,” Wright said. “That’s inside them. That confidence is inside them. That experience is inside them. You’re never going to take that away. Usually it’s harder to control your ego. ... The challenge is really our egos and staying humble and still staying hungry to get better. Because no matter what you did last year, everyone’s a different person this year. So we have different challenges.”

The challenges include replacing graduated seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, dealing with the absence of 5-star freshman Omari Spellman and more. Those are the internal challenges. 

On the outside, the questions come in about defending the trophy, dealing with the pressure. They’ve talked about that internally, but they won’t be labeled a failure, at least to themselves, should they fail to get out of the first weekend of the tournament this year.

“You judge yourself based on your own core values,” Wright said. “But you know that you get judged on the outside differently. And you have to accept that.”

They’ve always accepted that. It comes hand-in-hand with revenue collegiate sports, especially in a big market.

But internally, the goal hasn’t changed. It might not ever, as the walls around the Davis Center keep reminding the Wildcats of what they are and where they come from.

When asked about the team’s goals, Jenkins — he of the game-winning, life-changing shot — said: “We want to be the best team we can be by the end of the year.”

Last year, they were exactly that.