Villanova Wildcats

Villanova seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds look back at unforgettable run

Villanova seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds look back at unforgettable run

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Less than 48 hours after their careers ended with a crushing loss to Wisconsin in Buffalo, Villanova's three seniors stood together for the last time on the practice court at the Davis Center on campus trying to make sense of it all.

Three early NCAA exits surrounding a national championship. More wins than anybody in the country since the start of the 2013-14 season but only one trip to the Sweet 16. 

"It's difficult to accept, but that's the reality of it," Josh Hart said. "We gave it everything we could. We battled. We battled our whole careers here and gave everything we could to the program.

"We had some successful years so whenever we think about it, we'll think about those years and what we accomplished. ... We gave everything we could. A call here, a call there, a made shot here, a made shot there, but that's the luck of the draw. You've got to give Wisconsin all the credit. They're a tough, talented, very experienced team. We just ran into a good team."

It's a Villanova tradition that soon after the season ends, the players meet with the media.

Last year's interview was a continuation of the elation following the national championship.

This was different, following just two days after an excruciating loss, and Hart, Darryl Reynolds and Kris Jenkins -- Villanova's three seniors and the only players Villanova made available -- spontaneously decided to stand together and answer questions as a group.

It seemed like they just wanted one more moment together.

"The camaraderie, you can't put a price on that," Reynolds said, as Jenkins and Hart nodded in agreement. "A lot of people say this will be the last time you'll be with a group of guys who are this connected because after this point it is a complete business. More than anything, we're going to miss each other.

"We're not going to hang our heads. We had great careers here, we gave it everything we had and we walk away from it with no regrets. ...

"When you come up short, it's OK because you know you put everything you had into it."

Coach Jay Wright met with the full team Monday for the final time, and part of his message was that they have plenty to be proud of. Focus on the successes and not the failures.

"They hear the criticism from the outside, and we all understand that that comes with our position in college basketball right now and you have to accept that," Wright said.

"But we were very clear to them, that what they accomplished this season and in the regular season and the Big East Tournament and even the way they comported themselves in the NCAA Tournament, they should be proud. They should be really proud. They gave great effort, they never quit, they stuck together (and) that's all you can ask of an athlete.

"If someone were to back down in that game or someone would have got a little selfish in that game, then maybe you question something. But no one did. And no one did all season.

"It was really an incredible season, we just understand that on the outside in college basketball you get evaluated by how you advance in the NCAA Tournament. And it's OK. That's fair. But we want them to be proud of their effort this season."

In the end, this Villanova team seemed gassed. With Jenkins unable to find his shot, Mikal Bridges struggling late and Phil Booth and Omari Spellman unavailable, the Wildcats were really down to three scorers -- Hart, Jalen Brunson and reserve Donte DiVincenzo. It's a tough way to win.

Wright even spoke Monday of how last year ran right into this year and it seemed like the Wildcats never got a break.

"No complaints, I would do it all over again," he said. "But I think we could all use a break."

So they won 32 games and the Big East Tournament really with a seven-man rotation and just didn't have enough in the tank the last few minutes against a Wisconsin team that was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country a month ago, has been to two Final Fours in the last three years and goes 10 deep.

"We gave everything we could to this university and we're proud of that," Jenkins said. "We're proud of how we conducted ourselves as student-athletes representing this university.

"It didn't end the way we wanted, but we had great careers and we're proud of that."

These seniors have experienced highs and lows that most college basketball players never experience.

A year ago, they were in the middle of a historic run that ended with a trip to the White House.

Now they're back on campus, back in class, back to being regular college students.

"That's what the tournament is," Wright said. "You play for high stakes and you get great rewards when you win, so you can't avoid criticism when you lose. You've just got to take it, and no one's wrong in giving it to you.

"But you've got to look at yourself and say, 'Did we do everything we could do?' You know? And I really think the guys did and I want them to be proud of their efforts and their attitude and that's what we judge ourselves on."

Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds were a part of four teams that went a combined 129-17, the 10th-most wins ever by a Division I program in a four-year span.

Villanova's worst record with these guys in the lineup was 29-5.

They were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country all four years, won the Big East regular season four times, the Big East Tournament twice and the NCAA Tournament last year.

But then there are those three early exits. In 2014, 2015 and 2017, Villanova lost as a 1- or 2-seed to an opponent seeded seventh or lower.

"It's very tough but we gave this program everything we had since we got here and we're thankful for the opportunity we've had and the relationships that we've had here and now it's time to move on and hopefully we can do some more great things in the future," Jenkins said.

"I thought we battled and we gave it all we had. No one gave up, no one quit, we left it all out there for each other. We just fell a little short."

As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

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AP Images

As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

The decisions made by Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to remain in the NBA draft should ultimately be a good thing for the Villanova basketball program. DiVincenzo and Spellman join college teammates Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson in the 2018 draft class and there's a chance all four of them are selected in the first round. 

Having four players drafted in the first round will do wonders for Villanova on the recruiting trail. The caliber of high school players that Jay Wright recruits want to play in the NBA. Wright could point to the four first-rounders the program produced this year in addition to former players like Kyle Lowry, Dante Cunningham, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono currently playing in the NBA.

While Wright's program will reap the benefits of producing NBA talent in the long run, there is no disputing the fact that DiVincenzo and Spellman deciding to leave is a significant blow to the program in the immediate future. DiVincenzo and Spellman would have been Villanova's two best players next season. Two guys capable of leading the Wildcats to a third national championship in four years. 

But their departures bring about a new reality for Wright — his four best players from last year's team are gone and he has only two proven players returning to lead his team into the 2018-19 season. 

The proven returners
Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined to start 69 games last season and each played a critical role in winning the program's third national title. Next year will be Booth's fifth in the Villanova program and Paschall's fourth. These are proven performers and, more importantly, reliable leaders for what will largely be an inexperienced team. Booth will be one of the best guards in the Big East next season. Paschall is one of the most explosive athletes in the conference and his improved perimeter shooting last season was a key factor in Villanova winning the national championship.

Other key returners
This group will be the most important variable in Villanova's success next season. Collin Gillespie heads into his sophomore season poised for a big year. He made significant contributions off the bench as a freshman, overcoming an early season wrist injury that sidelined him for the better part of six weeks. A healthy and confident Gillespie will be a huge part of the Villanova backcourt. 

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree rounded out Villanova's seven-man rotation last season. Like Gillespie, he enters his sophomore season with a wealth of big-game experience. Cosby-Roundtree proved his worth last season as a high-motor big man specializing in defensive energy, rebounding and running the floor. He'll now be asked to contribute on a more consistent level offensively.

Jermaine Samuels will play a critical role. Another rising sophomore, Samuels was making strides as a freshman before a broken hand sidelined him for an extended stretch during the beginning of conference play. He was never able to re-establish himself in the rotation once he returned. Samuels has all the physical tools to be a high-level Big East wing player in the mold of Hart and DiVincenzo. Keep an eye on Samuels.

Then there's big man Dylan Painter, who redshirted last season. Painter showed promise towards the end of his freshman season in 2017. The hope is that a year spent working on his strength and athleticism will pay dividends. The redshirt formula has been a big part of Villanova's success. Painter could become the latest example of that. 

The new arrivals
Wright welcomes in his highest-rated recruiting class in a decade. The headliner is five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who originally committed to Arizona but then de-committed in the midst of the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Wright is confident that Quinerly will be cleared of any wrongdoing and will be eligible next season. Quinerly should make an instant impact, the next in a long line of terrific Villanova lead guards.

Cole Swider should also see significant playing time as a freshman. Swider is listed as a forward but is more than capable of doing damage from the perimeter thanks to his elite-level shooting ability. Swider is a natural scorer and should be a perfect fit for Villanova's three-point heavy offense. Brandon Slater is the third member of Villanova's freshman class, an athletic wing who will have ample opportunity to play his way into the rotation.

Villanova will also bring in at least one graduate transfer for next season. Joe Cremo has already committed to Villanova after starring at Albany the last two seasons. He averaged just under 18 points last year and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range. The question is whether Cremo's production will carry over to the Big East level. Wright is hopeful that it will. Look for Cremo to be a key addition to the Villanova backcourt. 

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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USA Today Images

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.