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VILLANOVA, Pa. — It’s impossible to imagine Ryan Arcidiacono in a different uniform, playing for a different college, a different coach.

Nobody in Division I basketball better embodies a program than Arcidiacono at Villanova. His brand of relentless, unselfish, team-first, defensive-minded basketball personifies everything coach Jay Wright wants in a basketball player.

Nobody in Villanova history has played in more games than Arcidiacono. And nobody has won more games in a Villanova uniform than Arcidiacono. And nobody has better represented the school than Arcidiacono.

“I think you can say he’s one of the best Villanova basketball players of all-time,” Wright said over the weekend.

And he almost went to Florida.

And on Monday, a day after Villanova advanced to its first Sweet 16 in seven years, Arcidiacono and Wright both shared their version of how Arch wound up on the Main Line instead of Gainesville.

Arch’s version
“I remember it was October before my junior year (at Neshaminy High School), and I was on a visit to Florida and I loved it,” Arcidiacono recalled.

 

“Both my parents wanted me to go to the best school for me, and they weren’t going to let their desire for me to go to Villanova affect me. If I really wanted to go to Florida they would have let me.

“But that whole week I just had Florida on my mind. (Then-Florida coach) Billy Donovan was coming to my morning workouts. I’ll be honest, Coach Wright wasn’t there.

“I told my mom, ‘I want to go to Florida,’ and I told Billy Donovan I really want to come here.

“Any time you’re on a visit, you know everything’s going to be perfect. They make everything 10 times better than it actually is. I went to an SEC football game and then just hung out with the guys. My parents just said, ‘Keep an open mind for 'Nova.’”

Arcidiacono’s parents both went to Villanova, and the last thing they wanted was for their son to wind up 1,000 miles away.

So they went to work.

Villanova’s version of Midnight Madness was coming up — the Wildcats call it Hoops Mania — and Arcidiacono’s mom knew it might be her last chance to sway her teenage son.

“She said, ‘Keep an open mind, and if you really feel after Hoops Mania that you want to go to Florida, go to Florida,’” Arcidiacono said.

“Little did I know that she got all my family members and everyone she knew to go to Hoopsmania. It wasn’t even like, ‘This is what you could have.’ She didn’t even tell me. I just saw everyone there and was like, ‘How can I pass this up?

“Close to home, playing in front of my family, especially for a coach like this and a great university like this. ...

“I remember the car ride after I left Hoops Mania, I told my parents, ‘Ah, I think I want to go to Villanova.’ My mom was like, 'YOU HAVE TO CALL COACH WRIGHT NOW.'

“I told her I wanted to go to Florida, it was like, take your time. But when I told her I wanted to go to Villanova, they were fine with that.”

Safe to say it worked out.

Villanova is 113-27 in Arcidiacono’s four years on the Main Line, which makes him the winningest player in Wildcats history.

The program’s .807 winning percentage with Arcidiacono on the court is fifth-highest of any NCAA Division I school since the start of the 2012-2013 season, behind only Gonzaga (.861), Stephen F. Austin (.859), Wichita State (.834) and Arizona (.821).

Arcidiacono is the only player in Villanova history with 1,500 points and 500 assists. He’s one of only seven current college players with 1,500 points, 500 assists, 150 steals and 300 rebounds.

On Thursday, Arcidiacono will play in a Sweet 16 for the first time when 2-seed Villanova faces 3-seed Miami in the semifinals of the South Region at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

 

But what if Arcidiacono went to Florida?

“I definitely think I’d be a lot warmer,” he said before practice Monday at the Davis Center on campus. “I definitely would have gone to a lot of college football games. I think it would have been a great experience going down there, but I think everything worked out in the end. For both of us.”

Arcidiacono, who is down to his last one, two, three or four games as a Wildcat, said he often reflects with his family about that decision he made six years ago.

“Yeah, we talk about that — ‘What if you would have gone to Florida?’” he said. “My sister has two kids now. (She says), ‘You wouldn’t be around the kids as much.’ I wouldn’t be with the family all over the place going to Phillies games, Eagles games, doing stuff with my family.

“I’d have a better tan. Maybe a Southern accent. But it’s always a funny conversation. My sister and my mom were both crying when I told them (I was going to Florida). I think that was the turning point in that recruiting process. They were crying.

“Once my mom told my sister I was going to commit to Florida, my sister started crying because she was recently married and was going to have a kid soon and she was upset I wasn’t going to be around her kids.

“I was like ... ‘Sorry?’ But once I visited 'Nova, I was like, ‘OK, I gotta go to 'Nova.’

Wright’s version
Looking back now, Wright knows he could have avoided all the trouble by offering Arcidiacono a scholarship a year earlier. But he wasn’t sure the Bucks County point guard was good enough to play in the Big East.

“I remind myself all the time, ‘You've got to make a quicker decision. You almost lost a really good player.’ We almost lost that one. One of the best ever," Wright said.

“I'm always concerned that when you take a local kid, you have to make sure as a head coach he can really play. We’d rather take the hit locally for not recruiting him than the long-term hit. A local guy being in the program and not being happy locally is harmful.

“It turned into a battle to get him whereas if we would have (offered him) a year earlier, he would have committed and Billy would have never hae seen him.”

There’s always been a bond between the Wright family and the Arcidiaconos.

Both families are originally from Northeast Philly and both relocated to Bucks County. Arcidiacono’s parents both attended Villanova. Wright’s wife, Patty, lived in the same hall freshman year at 'Nova as Arcidiacono’s mom, Patti.

So when Arcidiacono told his mom he was heading to Florida without even taking his official visit to 'Nova ... it was cataclysmic.

“I remember I was standing in my driveway and I was talking to Patti, and she was crying, and she was like, ‘Please don’t let him go to Florida. Please! I don’t want my baby that far away! Please!’ Wright said.

 

“And I’m saying to her, like, ‘You’re crying to me? I’m begging to you, please help me get this done. Please help me get this done.”

But as Arcidiacono said, Hoops Mania swayed him back over to Villanova. After the event ended, Arcidiacono told his parents he wanted to go to Villanova.

“They were like, ‘Call Jay now,” he said.

So he called, but Wright didn’t answer.

“I remember he came to Hoops Mania, but we stay up late that night, we have a party, and he tried to call me that night and I didn't have my phone,” Wright said. “I was with all my coaches.

“He said he'd call me tomorrow, but he didn't say he was committing. And I know exactly where I was. I was at Aronomink Golf Club on (Rte.) 252, and he called and I was picking up Riley from basketball practice.”

Riley is Wright’s daughter, who at the time was in middle school.

She was also quickly forgotten when Arcidiacono called Wright.

“When he called, I pulled over to the side of the road,” Wright said. “I was on St. David's Road. Because I know when I go down that hill I lose my signal, and I was so excited, and we talked, and I get there 45 minutes late and Riley is sitting in the parking lot in her coach's car and I called Patty and I see on the phone because I saw her (texts): ‘Where are you? Where are you? Riley’s with her coach, you didn’t pick her up.’

"So I get there, she's in the car with the coach. I said, 'I'm so sorry coach, I really apologize. I told him, 'Ryan Arcidiacono committed.' He’s a Villanova fan, he says, 'Don't worry about it, I'm glad I helped.'"

Wright had landed his prize recruit, a guard who he would build his program around for the next four years.

But Patty was in no mood to celebrate.

“She was like, ‘You’ve got to get your priorities straight. Your daughter’s waiting. The Arcidiaconos understand. They understand you’re a father and you’re picking up your daughter,’” Wright said.

“She wasn’t happy I left her there for 45 minutes. She was like, ‘What if the coach left? What if the coach left and she’s in the parking lot for 45 minutes?

“I got heat.”

Wright is asked at this point if he’s seen the commercial where a father, a compulsive gambler, is shown missing his son’s birthday party because he lost track of the time at a casino.

“Yes, exactly!” Wright says with a huge laugh. “That’s exactly what it was. That is the one.”

Wright is asked if he honestly thought he would lose Arcidiacono to Florida if he picked up his daughter before calling Arcidiacono back.

 

“In my mind, yeah,” he said. “Yeah. Or they think it’s not important to me and I’m just blowing it off. Because I’d already missed the call the previous night. That’s what I was thinking. They were trying to call me, I didn’t answer the phone, he just took his visit and I didn’t have my phone with me, so they’re going to think now we’re trying to call again to commit and he’s blowing us off.”

You’re getting a pretty good look inside the life of a big-time basketball coach here.

And also a pretty good look inside the life of a big-time basketball coach’s wife.

“Her point was, ‘The Arcidaconos are a good family too, they’ll get this, you’re an idiot,’” Wright said laughing.

“Her point was why couldn’t I just say, ‘I’ve got to pick up my daughter, I’ll call you back in 15 minutes?’

“Problem is she’s right. She was right about that. I mean, really. All I had to do was say, ‘Hey Arch, I’m picking up Riley, I will be there in 10 minutes, let me get here, I will call you back,’

“That’s all I had to do. But you get so excited. I got so excited. That’s when she says my connection with reality gets too distorted when it comes to this.

“And she’s right.”