SAN FRANCISCO – When the coach says he’s lucky to have recruited a player, and the player insists his good fortune is a result of his association with the coach, it sometimes calls for skepticism. To search for ulterior motives or, at the least, scrutinize for embellishment.
But in listening to stories told by Villanova coach Jay Wright of Villanova three-year Wildcats forward Eric Paschall, their sincerity is unmistakable.
So, it stands to reason that when asked which of his coaches he’d like to honor with a Coaching Corps Game Changer Award, Paschall identified Wright.
“If he didn’t take a chance on me at Villanova and help me out,” Paschall says, “I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today.”
That position is power forward, in the NBA, for the Golden State Warriors. It’s the realization of a dream for the 23-year-old who grew up mostly in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. He will honor Wright this week at the awards dinner in San Francisco.
Paschall took circuitous route to Villanova, a college basketball powerhouse, with two of the last four national championships and Wright sending more than a dozen players into the NBA in his 19 years at the Philadelphia college.
Though Paschall had a solid prep career at St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Conn., he committed to Fordham University shortly before being contacted by then-Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy.
“There are a lot of things that happen in your career that are luck. Pure luck,” explains Wright. “Eric Paschall is pure luck.
“We saw him in high school, and we liked him. We were moving slowly and my former assistant, Tom Pecora, jumped on him and got him committed to Fordham. which kind of bummed us out. But we were happy for Tom.”
Paschall lasted one year at Fordham. By choice. After leading the Rams in scoring at 15.9 points per game and being named Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year, he wanted out because Pecora had been fired.
That gave Villanova and Wright a second chance.
Pecora told Paschall that Villanova under Wright could offer an experience similar to that under Pecora at Fordham. Pecora, according to Wright, didn’t stop there. He reached out to the Villanova coach to see if he might be interested in Paschall.
“Hell yeah,” Wright recalls.
Paschall was immediately impressed with the coach, and not only because of his program. Wright may be the leading fashionista among coaches at any level, and Paschall took note of Wright’s “suit game” on the sideline.
What followed was immediate success on the court. While sitting out in 2015-16 to meet NCAA transfer rules, Paschall was making an impact during practices.
“Eric would be the (scout team) power forward or the big guy or even the guard,” Wright recalls. “Whatever position we put him at, we couldn’t stop him. We knew we had something special. No one else did. Our practices that season were so competitive and so tough because of Eric.”
Keep in mind, Paschall was having his way with teammates that won the national championship. They had trouble coping with his knack for scoring, his 6-foot-6, 250-pound physique and a vertical leap that approaches 40 inches.
Paschall brought many of his offensive tools to Villanova. His defensive tools required some work, which Wright and assistant coach Kyle Neptune were willing to give. With their aid, Paschall became a capable defender.
With Paschall playing a key role as a junior, the Wildcats won their second national title in three seasons. He was named to the Final Four All-Tournament team that year and then returned for his senior season, after which he was a unanimously voted All-Big East first team.
“Those four years at Villanova were not the easiest,” Paschall says. “But it taught me a lot. That’s his program. It taught me a lot in terms of having a good attitude every day That’s the one thing you can control.”
The Warriors are delighted with Paschall, their second-round draft pick No. 41 overall, who has earned significant playing time at power forward while also getting minutes at small forward.
“I know how much he respects coaching,” Wright says. “If you go through his career. Jerry Quinn at St. Thomas More, Tom Pecora, myself and now Steve Kerr. He always talks about how great his coaches were at every spot. That’s why he’s such a great player.”
No coach thus far has made an imprint as deep as Wright.
“He’s a competitor. He wants to win,” Paschall says. “I know how he is as a coach and it’s very intense. He wants the best for his kids. I really appreciate everything he’s done in terms of how he presented Villanova to me. He kept it honest and put me through four years of college basketball.
“I feel (going to) Villanova is the greatest decision I’ve made in my whole life.”