Rebuilding Villanova prepared for growing pains after NBA departures
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Under construction: The finishing touches on the more than $60 million in renovations to Villanova’s on-campus home and the national champions who will call it home.
On a miserable, soggy Tuesday, the glass entrance of the refurbished digs sparkled across the street from Villanova’s practice facility, the curtain about to go up on a project that forced the Wildcats to play a season at an NBA arena.
Yeah, that’s a 1-percenter type of problem.
The Wildcats are certainly among the elite after winning two national championships in three seasons, their basketball blood now as blue as the “V” in their logo. They’ve topped 30 wins in four straight seasons, and the 2019 forecast is again sky-high.
Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson and Omari Spellman all left for the NBA.
The Wildcats were feted with a parade and a rally at city hall.
Coach Jay Wright met Pope Francis.
“We’ve been very blessed the last five years,” Wright said on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats are set to raise the 2018 national championship banner next week -- and also lower expectations for the season ahead. The NBA defections could rattle Villanova early as it seeks to find an identity.
“I certainly wouldn’t have us as a national title contender,” Wright said.
He means at this stage of the season -- not necessarily by March.
Brunson was the AP national player of the year, and DiVincenzo scored 31 points and was the most outstanding player as the Wildcats beat Michigan to win the title. Bridges and Spellman both left voids that not even the most prized prospects could fill without some growing pains.
Exit, championship veterans.
Enter, freshmen Jahvon Quinerly, Brandon Slater and Cole Swider, along with transfer Joe Cremo.
“I don’t think they realize yet what it’s going to be like,” Wright said. “How could they? They don’t know. But they’re going to get a taste of it early, and we’re going to have to learn from it.”
The Wildcats will have a national championship game rematch against Michigan on Nov. 14 at the revamped Pavilion, a tournament in Florida and games in December at Kansas and against UConn at Madison Square Garden.
Oh, and then a Big East slate in a conference the Wildcats have largely dominated under Wright.
Opening day came without the hype that will accompany those games. Quinerly, who had committed to Arizona before an FBI investigation forced him reopen his commitment, looked at home in a 2018 national champions T-shirt. He is the only guard in a recruiting class that was widely ranked among the top 10, and he has been pegged to replace Brunson to run the offense.
Wright is ready for the next few weeks to give him a better idea of how the new talent will fit.
Up first is the Hoops Mania kickoff that will give the Wildcats one more chance to bask in the 2018 title -- and serve as a reminder of what has now become the norm at the campus in a tony Philadelphia suburb.
Wright had to laugh at a difference between the 2016 and 2018 champs that had nothing to do with the Nova roster.
“For whatever reason, the celebration didn’t go on as long this year,” he said. “I really think the Eagles’ Super Bowl (title), and I mean this seriously, has affected our city. I think everybody’s a little more confident, a little more relaxed. Fans. I think us winning in ’18 was celebrated nicely. But I don’t think anybody felt like we had to prove anything anymore as a city.”