Villanova Wildcats

Villanova star safety Rob Rolle ready to prove Temple wrong after being passed over

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Villanova star safety Rob Rolle ready to prove Temple wrong after being passed over

Rob Rolle was feeling good at the one-day prospect camp held at Temple University between his junior and senior years of high school.

The Delsea High (N.J.) standout looked sharp and was encouraged that he did enough to convince the Temple coaches that he deserved a scholarship. 

But then …. 

“I remember they were pretty close to offering me and at the end of the camp they told me they were gonna take another look at me throughout my senior year,” Rolle said. “I put that as a chip on my shoulder that they didn’t have faith in me like other schools did.”

Rolle ended up accepting an offer from nearby Villanova and, for the first time in his college career, will get a chance to face Temple as the Wildcats and Owls collide Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field (3:30 p.m, ESPN3).

“Going into this game,” the senior safety said, “I’m gonna prove I very much deserve to be on the field with those boys.

“When I didn’t get the offer, it was like, ‘Alright, they passed on me, so I gotta go prove them wrong.’”

Rolle, a preseason All-American and one of the Wildcats’ captains, has more reasons to feel extra motivation heading into Saturday’s showdown.

Growing up in South Jersey, he played against a few Temple players, including senior wide receiver Adonis Jennings, senior defensive back Sean Chandler and redshirt sophomore defensive back Kareem Ali. 

But he says he hasn’t been doing much trash talk with those guys leading up to the contest. Instead, he’s been in the ear of his current teammates, imploring them not to be intimidated playing up a level against an FBS program.

“I’m fully going into this game expecting to win, as I’m sure they are,” said Rolle, who led the FCS with seven interceptions last season. “The key is getting guys on my team as prepared as possible and making sure they have the same mindset.”

While Temple will be a significant favorite, Rolle’s confidence is not unwarranted. Villanova — an FCS power that opened its 2017 campaign under first-year head coach Mark Ferrante with a 38-35 win over Lehigh last week — has kept it close vs. FBS schools in the past, losing by a combined six points in losses to UConn and Syracuse in Rolle’s first two seasons.

And although Villanova was blown out by Temple in their last two meetings in 2011 and 2012, the Wildcats actually won the game in 2009, 27-24, and lost by one score in 2010, 31-24.

“Temple is a great program and we know they’re coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, so we’re not knocking them,” Rolle said. “But we’re a pretty solid team in FCS play and we play in the toughest league in 1-AA. We see teams from our league play big FBS teams and give them a run for their money. We know the talent our league has, and we know we can take care of business. 

“We’ll be fighting against a greater depth chart but if we bring our ‘A’ game, if we play physical and show up, we’ll be right in the ballgame.”

While playing against some old South Jersey guys may give it the feel “of a high school game,” the venue certainly will not, as Rolle is fired up to play inside the Linc for the first time. 

He’s been to games there before, though, cheering on former Villanova teammate and fellow South Jersey native Austin Medley during past Temple-Villanova Mayor’s Cup contests.

Now, the star playmaker who had two defensive touchdowns last year is trying to picture stepping on the field and making a big defensive play inside the pro football stadium, against the team that almost wanted him, for the team that helped develop him into a star.

“That’s something we really like,” Rolle said of playing at the Linc. “I prefer that to playing at home any day. I don’t care if it’s on the road or not. I just like playing in front of that many people.”

“We’re really pumped,” he added. “We try to take each week as it is but I’d be lying to you if I said we weren’t a little more hyped to play a hometown rival.”

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

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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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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.