NCAA

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

I'll be honest. My North Philadelphia roots didn't make room for a lot of in-person sporting events. So as an adult, getting to the games was a must and the NCAA Tournament was always high on the list. Every March, I rooted for the Philly teams and the players I loved. So when the tournament came to Wells Fargo Center in March of 2013, I was all in. 

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast University I got the complete and full embodiment of March Madness and then some.

The WFC has seen a ton of great basketball, from Allen Iverson's ear cupped encores to the frenzied success of Villanova's second home in South Philly. 

I guarantee you it was never wilder there than when this bracket-busting 15-seed had fans mobbing them in the hallway after an upset over Georgetown.

FGCU had all the swagger of James Brown in a fresh jumpsuit taking the court against the Hoyas. I had no idea what I was about to see.

They called themselves "Dunk City" and by the time the game was over, Georgetown was also calling them Daddy. I actually had Georgetown going to the Final Four in my personal tournament bracket, which as a 2-seed was a pretty mundane pick. That may also explain some of the bitter feelings I have thinking back on the cocktail of emotions I experienced as FGCU turned my "sheet of integrity" into liner for my cats' litter box. 

I'll never forget how those blue and green uniforms flew up and down the court, dunk after dunk. But it wasn't just the fact that they were dunking or hitting important shots, it was the way they were doing it. There were alley-oops, back-door slams, tip dunks, chin-ups on the rim. There were heat check three-pointers from Conshohocken, catch-and-shoot, in-your-face threes. The FGCU Eagles were talking trash and backing it up, the whole. nine. yards.

These kids absolutely knew they could beat Georgetown and then went out and did it with as much bravado and moxie as if destiny owed them a favor. When the weekend was over, I guess it did. They beat San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. The only 15-seed to ever do it.

For a city that loves a good underdog, this was Vince Papale and Rudy with a little Bad News Bears on the side. Unbelievable. Happy to say I was in the building for a flat-out epic NCAA Tournament game which brought the captivating theater of the unexpected right into my lap.

What can we expect from the Villanova Wildcats next season?

What can we expect from the Villanova Wildcats next season?

This was supposed to be a big week for Villanova. They were supposed to be preparing for their 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 16 years. They likely would have been a 2- or 3-seed in the 68-team field, one of a handful of teams with a legitimate shot of winning a national championship.

The Wildcats were playing at a high level entering the postseason. They won seven of their last eight games to secure a share of the Big East regular-season championship. Considering the lack of dominant teams in college basketball, Villanova had every reason to think it could capture the program's third national title in the last five years.

But with college basketball and the rest of the sports world shutting down indefinitely, Jay Wright and co. can only look ahead to next season. And next year could be special. With no scholarship seniors on this year's roster, there's a chance everyone could return for the 2020-21 season. If that happens, Villanova should begin the season ranked in the Top 5.

But several key questions must be answered before the Wildcats and their fans can start dreaming of another national championship.

Will Saddiq Bey return for his junior year?

Bey is coming off a tremendous sophomore season. He led Villanova with 16 points per game and shot 45 percent from three-point range. He was named to the All-Big East First Team and is one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award, given annually to the best small forward in the country.

At 6-foot-8, he has the size and versatility to be a very good NBA player. He's also an outstanding defender. Not surprisingly, he's projected as a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Wright has a history of encouraging his players to leave early for the NBA if they are guaranteed to be a first-round pick. Bey would seem to fall under that category.

Odds are that Bey has played his last game in a Villanova uniform. But there's always a chance he decides to come back. Maybe he wants to settle some unfinished business from this season being cut short. Maybe he wants the opportunity to compete for a national championship with his teammates. Time will tell. But if Bey comes back to school, Villanova will be on everyone's short list of national title contenders.

Can Bryan Antoine have a breakout sophomore season?

There will be a big opportunity for Antoine if Bey leaves for the NBA. Antoine was the headliner of Wright's star-studded 2019 recruiting class. But surgery last spring to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder cost him the entire offseason leading up to his freshman year. He wasn't cleared to play until right before Thanksgiving. Antoine showed some promise early on but was never able to fully catch up to the point where he could perform at a consistently high level. He did not play in eight of the final 11 games of the season.

Antoine's situation is a popular talking point among Villanova fans. Is he unhappy with his lack of playing time? Will he transfer to another school? Both Antoine and Wright seemed to accept the situation for what it was — unfair to ask Antoine to play at a high level after he missed all of the team's offseason and preseason workouts.

Now, he has a full offseason to work out, get stronger and better grasp Villanova's system. Don't be surprised if he returns to the form that made him one of the best high school players in the country.

Will Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore make the leap from good to great?

Villanova's senior class next season will be rock solid. Collin Gillespie should be one of the best players in the country. Jermaine Samuels — arguably the Wildcats' most clutch player — will return for a third season in the starting lineup. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be back as a key bench player and valuable leader.

But next season's sophomores will be the key to just how good Villanova can be. Robinson-Earl had a terrific rookie year that ended with him being named Big East Freshman of the Year. He finished a half-rebound shy of averaging a double-double. His footwork and touch around the basket are excellent. The challenge this offseason will be improving his perimeter jump shot.

Moore was arguably the second-best freshman in the Big East. He was Villanova's third-leading scorer at over 11 points per game. He is a dynamic scoring guard who fits perfectly in Villanova's offense. With a little more consistency, he should develop into one of the best guards in the conference.

Factor in Antoine's upside, and you can see the tremendous potential of next season's sophomore class.

Can the new guys help?

At this point, Villanova isn't expected to have any actual newcomers to the program. Eric Dixon will be a red-shirt freshman after sitting out this past season. Caleb Daniels will be a junior after transferring from Tulane. Both Dixon and Daniels should have the opportunity to earn significant playing time next season.

Dixon was the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year as a senior at Abington HS. He's a big, powerful forward who hopes to follow in the long line of Villanova players who have benefited from a red-shirt year.

Daniels was Tulane's leading scorer as a sophomore at just under 17 points per game. He's a physical, playmaking guard with a skill set tailor-made for Villanova's system.

Wright will have lots of talent at his disposal next season. The sting of having this season cut short won't subside for a while. But it's easy to get excited about what lies ahead for the Villanova basketball program.