Jay Wright

Why USA Basketball should replace Gregg Popovich with Jay Wright

Why USA Basketball should replace Gregg Popovich with Jay Wright

It’s time for Jay Wright to get his chance to serve as the head coach of NBA players.

Deep breaths, Nova Nation. I’m not talking about Wright getting a job with an NBA franchise. Rather, USA Basketball should make the bold step of naming Wright as the head coach of the national team prior to the 2020 Summer Olympics.

That’s because for the first time since 2006, USA Basketball’s gold medal chances in a major tournament went bust. Or more appropriately, they went Pop — as in Gregg Popovich.

In his first run of games as national team head coach, Popovich lost twice as many games in a month as Mike Krzyzewski did in a decade at the helm of USA Basketball. The Pop/NBA apologists will be quick to point out Coach K had more talent at his disposal than Popovich did for this World Cup.

That’s true. But it points to why a college coach should always lead the national team. The No. 1 job (and probably No. 2 and No. 3) for the national team coach is to convince the best players to play. You know who has experience at convincing good players to play for them? High-level college coaches. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Popovich would be interested in sending the texts and making the phone calls necessary to convince top NBA players that were on the fence to participate. But that is second nature to Jay Wright.

Additionally, Wright is unencumbered of the NBA rivalries that can make it a challenge to build the type of relationships necessary to ensure enough frontline stars are willing to give their offseasons to USA Basketball.
 
Another reason why a college coach, specifically Wright, should lead the national team is the nature of the task. Beyond the one-and-done nature of international tournament play, the expectation is for USA Basketball to win every game. When you run a big-time college program, that is a familiar pressure. Any time a Duke or Villanova loses, it’s newsworthy. On the road, it likely means a court storm. When an NBA coach loses a game on the road, he gets on a charter flight and coaches again the next night.

You can argue that Popovich understands that expectation. And I’m sure he thinks he did. But I’d rather roll the dice with someone that lives that pressure every night of their season and plays in a one-and-done setting every March. And no coach has been better in the NCAA Tournament in recent years than Wright. Look at those two trophies on Villanova’s campus for proof of that.

Lastly, a college coach has more time at their disposal to devote towards the USA Basketball program. An NBA season can run from late September to early June. A college campaign goes from mid-October until the first Monday in April. That’s extra time for Wright, relative to an NBA coach, to dedicate to preparation, scouting and recruiting.

Wright — for his part —has been a constant for USA Basketball. He’s serving as an assistant for Popovich currently. He’s presumed by many to be next in line for the role after Popovich coaches the Olympic team next summer.

Maybe USA Basketball can afford to wait until 2021 to hand the reins to Wright. Maybe more All-Stars will agree to take part in a showcase event like the Olympics. Maybe this was just a one-game fluke.

But USA Basketball’s expectations leave no room for doubt.

Wright’s the best man for the job right now.

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UCLA reportedly offered Jay Wright ridiculous amount he turned down

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USA Today Images

UCLA reportedly offered Jay Wright ridiculous amount he turned down

Because of his success at Villanova, Jay Wright is always a hot name when a high-profile coaching job becomes available. But Wright really does seem happy at Villanova. 

It looks like Wright subscribes to the idea that money can’t buy happiness. 

The Los Angeles Times published a story today about UCLA’s long and winding search for a new head coach. Before they eventually landed on Mick Cronin, they went after some big names in the coaching world, including John Calipari and Wright. 

While Calipari showed some real interest in the gig, it doesn’t seem like Wright gave it a second thought, not even after UCLA offered to double his salary, according to the LA Times

Read by the LA Times, here’s part of what UCLA’s senior associate AD Josh Rebholz said in a text message to donors after the school failed to hire Calipari: 

We would have loved for Jay Wright to walk out on the floor, but even when we offered to double his salary, he still wasn’t coming. Nothing we can do about that. But I am proud of our effort. We didn’t assume anything, took our shots and I believe will end up with a solid coach who will embrace UCLA and build a program we all can be proud of and root for.

If that’s true, that UCLA offered to double his salary, Wright turned down a ton of money. According to USA Today, Wright makes $3,878,768 per season, so doubling that would give him an annual salary of over $7.75 million. That would be the second-highest salary in college basketball behind Calipari and ahead of Mike Krzyzewski. 

It seems like Wright really does love it here. 

Villanova beats Seton Hall to become first team to win three consecutive Big East Tournament titles

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USA Today Images/Noah K. Murray

Villanova beats Seton Hall to become first team to win three consecutive Big East Tournament titles

BOX SCORE 

NEW YORK — Villanova became the first team to win three consecutive Big East Tournaments, beating Seton Hall 74-72 on Saturday night behind seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and key contributions from freshman Saddiq Bey.

Seton Hall star Myles Powell, guarded closely by Booth, missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that could have won it. Booth was called for traveling as he tried to corral the rebound, however, and the Pirates got one more chance with 0.4 seconds left. Anthony Nelson's long inbounds lob bounced off the backboard and was slapped away by the Wildcats, who got to party on the Madison Square Garden floor yet again.

"This one is special, very special. This team has taught me so much," Booth said during the postgame ceremonies at center court. "These young dudes are like a fresh breath of air for me, being around them."

The 25th-ranked and top-seeded Wildcats (25-9) were in the Big East final for a fifth straight year, and have won four of the last five championships. The only loss during that span was to Seton Hall in 2016, and Powell and the third-seeded Pirates (20-13) gave Villanova all it could handle once again.

"Can't thank Phil and Eric for their leadership enough," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "They've been great examples of what a Villanova basketball player is their whole career."

Powell scored 25 points to cap a spectacular three days in Manhattan for the high-scoring guard.

Paschall had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Booth scored 16 and was selected most outstanding player of the 40th Big East Tournament.

Bey, who Villanova fans hope will lead the next wave of championship teams, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

"Our team loves playing here in the Garden," Wright said.

Villanova had a chance to seal it in the final 30 seconds but Paschall was called for a charge when he lowered his shoulder into Myles Cale with 24 seconds left. Powell quickly scored inside at the other end to cut the Wildcats' lead to 73-72 with 15.5 seconds left.

The Pirates sent Paschall to the line with 13.7 seconds remaining and he made the first and missed the second. Seton Hall rebounded and called a timeout to set up a final play with 8.9 seconds left.

Big picture 
Seton Hall: Nelson scored 12 points off the bench for the scrappy Pirates, but other than Powell, they had a hard time finding offense. They did force 14 turnovers. They'll go as far as Powell and a tough defense will take them in the NCAAs.

Villanova: The Wildcats also got key contributions from sophomores Jermaine Samuels (12 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (six points and seven rebounds). The inexperienced players have provided inconsistent production much of the season, and if Wright's team is going to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats will need more games like this one from the young guys.

"Things were rocky right until the last second of this game," Wright said. "It's been a rocky season."

Up next 
Seton Hall: The Pirates are headed to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament, matching a school best (1991-94).

Villanova: The defending national champions will be in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight season, but will probably be seeded worse than a 2 for the first time since 2013. Villanova also won the 2016 national title.