Villanova's Jay Wright set for emotional game vs. former team

USA Today Images

Villanova's Jay Wright set for emotional game vs. former team

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Hofstra (7-4) vs. No. 1 Villanova (11-0), Friday 8:30 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York
This will be top-ranked Villanova's final non-conference game before the Big East portion of the schedule begins next week. For the sake of accuracy, the Wildcats do have an additional non-conference matchup remaining — a late January visit to UConn that is sandwiched in the middle of conference play. But for all intents and purposes, Friday night's game with Hofstra signifies the end of the first chapter of Villanova's season. 

This is technically a home game for Villanova, albeit one that will be played significantly closer to the Hofstra campus. While it's a game the Wildcats should win handily, it's also a night that will have tremendous meaning for Villanova head coach Jay Wright.   

Wright was the head coach at Hofstra for seven seasons — from 1994 until 2001 — when he left to become the head coach at Villanova. This will be the first time he faces his former team during his 17-year tenure at Villanova. Wright's stay at Hofstra was brief but significant. He took over a program that had fallen on tough times and transformed it into one of the top mid-major programs in the country. Wright's final two seasons with the Pride ended with consecutive conference championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Wright’s career path nearly took a detour that would have prevented him from making the move from Hofstra to Villanova. He was the frontrunner for several head coaching positions in the spring of 2001, most notably Rutgers. Wright was very close to accepting the Rutgers job. So close that Villanova decided to part ways with Steve Lappas in an 11th-hour effort to try to bring Wright back to Villanova, where he was an assistant under Rollie Massimino from 1987-1992.

In the end, the choice was an easy one. Villanova was home for Wright and the Wildcats head coaching position represented his dream job. He accepted Villanova’s offer in March of 2001 and the rest is history.

Since signing on with Villanova, Wright has built the program into a national power and established himself as one of the premier coaches in the country. It’s simply a matter of time before he will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

His résumé speaks for itself. This will be the 13th time in the last 14 years that Wright has guided Villanova to the NCAA Tournament. He’s been to five Sweet 16s, two Final Fours and won a national championship in 2016. 

Villanova has won 140 games since the start of the 2013-2014 season, the most in the country over that time period. This recent run of success also includes four straight Big East championships, two Big East Tournament titles and an unprecedented 22-game Big 5 winning streak. This is the third straight season that the Wildcats have reached No. 1 in the national polls.

There is no disputing Wright is presiding over the best era in the history of Villanova basketball. He’s been able to do so thanks to a head coaching foundation that was formed during his seven years at Hofstra, a school and program that will always hold a special place in his heart.

Villanova 84, Hofstra 65

Temple (7-3) at Georgia (8-2), Friday, 1 p.m.
 Temple is headed out of the city once again to face an opponent on the road. The Owls had six days off after squeaking by Drexel last weekend and face Georgia in their building Friday afternoon. Temple might welcome a change of scenery too because its last two games in Philadelphia weren’t exactly ones to write home about. 

First, there was the 20-point loss to Villanova. Yes, the Wildcats are the top team in the nation, so you could look past that one. But then it was a holding-on-for-dear-life type of win over Drexel last Saturday that might be more worrisome for Fran Dunphy. Temple allowed the Dragons to go on two separate and substantial runs in the second half to get back in the game they were all but out of. In fact, with a little over a minute to go, it was all tied up. If not for some timely foul shooting by Obi Enechionyia, the Dragons would’ve completed the comeback to take down their Philadelphia neighbors. 

Against the Dragons, the Owls shot poorly from the field — just 39 percent — and even worse from behind the arc at 28 percent. They can’t afford to have too many off nights like that if they hope to make any run in conference play. And the Owls definitely can’t keep letting teams back in games where they have a double-digit lead. 

Next up, a date with Georgia in Athens. And before you say it, yes, Georgia has a basketball team. It’s not only football down there, but it is mainly football. 

Mark Fox has done a commendable job in Athens and he has more coming down the pike. Georgia actually just received a commitment from a bonafide five-star recruit. Fox knows he’ll never beat football, but he wants the Bulldogs to at least compete for attention. Fox came to Georgia as a Coach-of-the-Year winner while at Nevada. And he got the Bulldogs back to the tournament. So they are not just a fluke football school. They also just downed their arch-rival Georgia Tech by 21 points. 

I expect this one to be tight and that usually favors Temple. Perhaps the Owls like the challenge. But this one might be too much as Georgia has yet to lose at home this season. I think that trend continues. As much as I’d like for Temple’s success on the road to come into play, it won’t. 

Georgia 79, Temple 73 

La Salle (6-6) at Bucknell (5-7), Friday, 7 p.m.
 The Explorers bounced back nicely from the hard-fought, close loss to Villanova with an impressive shooting performance against Mercer. 

In the win over Mercer, the Explorers made a season-high 16 three-pointers, just two shy of the school record. With 10 long-range shots going down in the first half, they jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead. Mercer did mount quite a comeback, going on a 17-2 run in the second half. But the Explorers withstood the barrage and that showed me something. At other times this season, when an opponent came back or took a lead, La Salle has struggled to maintain its poise. But as it's approaching conference play, it seems as though the team is coming together.

The Explorers' last game before Atlantic-10 play is Bucknell. The Bison showed early promise the season, with a two-point loss to Maryland and hanging tough with North Carolina. But they’ve struggled as of late. They are a senior-laden team with three veteran players who lead the way. Zach Thomas averages over 22 points and nearly nine rebounds. So the Explorers will have to contend with him as well as Nana Foulland and Steven Brown. 

But I like La Salle in this one, even on the road. It's rounding into form as a team and I think it'll finish its non-conference schedule strong. 

La Salle 76, Bucknell 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
Amy Fadool: 5-8

Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

USA Today Images

Knicks will reportedly reach out to Jay Wright about coaching job

Fresh off a second national championship in three years, this was bound to happen. Jay Wright is a hot name. 

And according to the New York Daily News, the Knicks plan on reaching out to Wright about their vacant head coaching job. 

Just don’t expect Wright to be interested. 

The 56-year-old coach has been determined to build Villanova into a powerhouse since he took the head coaching gig way back in 2001 and he’s finally done that. On the surface, maybe some think that would be enough to make him want to take his coaching to the top league in the world. Not so fast. 

In a recent interview with The Athletic, Wright said pretty flatly that he’s staying at Villanova because he loves it there. 

“The NBA does intrigue me,” Wright said. “That challenge is appealing but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys. The whole thing is, to take a new challenge you have to give up what you have. I don’t want to give up what I have. Would I like to coach in the NBA? Yes. But I have to give this up in order to do that, and I don’t see that happening.”

In that interview, Wright talked about his time at Hofstra and quoted Jim Valvano, who once said, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That was true at Hofstra until the Villanova job came around, so maybe there’s a chance the Knicks could blow him away. It just doesn’t seem likely. 

The Knicks just fired head coach Jeff Hornacek after a 29-53 record in 2017. The Knicks haven’t had a winning record since 2012-13. 

The New York Daily News cites a source, who said the Knicks believe Wright would be a “perfect candidate for a rebuilding club.” The Knicks might be right, but don’t bet on them getting Wright. 

Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

USA Today Images

Jalen Brunson hires agent, declares for NBA draft

Villanova is losing its second star player in two days. 

Guard Jalen Brunson has decided to hire an agent and enter the 2018 NBA Draft, he wrote in a letter to Nova Nation on ESPN. He will forego his senior season at Villanova after an incredible college career. 

This news comes a day after his teammate Mikal Bridges announced he will also head to the NBA draft.

“It is with great honor and privilege that I have called Villanova University my home for the past three years,” Brunson wrote in ESPN. “When I decided to commit to Coach Jay Wright and the basketball program, I was driven by three goals: getting my education, competing at the highest level and winning a national championship. While I pride myself on remaining disciplined and focused to achieve these goals, I have grown as a man and have established lifelong relationships with my teammates, classmates, members of the basketball staff, fellow student-athletes and the wonderful educators and administrators of this prestigious university.”

Brunson leaves Villanova as one of the greatest players in Wildcats history, helping lead Villanova to its second national championship in three years. 

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 18.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this season. Brunson was named the Big East Player of the Year and was the Wooden Award and Naismith Award winner this season.