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.