VUSports: What is the one, single most important improvement that you want to see made as part of the Pavilion remodeling effort?
Jay Wright: To make it a great college basketball experience. Even if it is for a small number of people, whoever can get in there, any time they get in there, I want them to say "this is the best place". If you are a Villanova person, there is nowhere better that you would like to go and experience everything there is about Villanova basketball than right here. I want it to be a kind of return to Mecca. You come back and you just ooze tradition and passion and everything that you see in there just exudes Villanova, the mission of Villanova, the tradition of Villanova basketball, the history, the passion of the fans, the students, the experience … I want everyone to get that feeling, every time they come to a game, no matter who we are playing.
VUSports: What are the keys to remaining a top 10 program with a chance to continue advancing deep in, and competing to win, titles - given some things may be cyclical or somewhat out of your control?
Jay Wright: What is under control is our culture. What has gotten us here is our culture. The way our guys conduct themselves on the court and off the court, the way our guys come to practice every day, the way they handle winning and losing. Our guys respect the process here and they respect the tradition here. That we can control. Whether we lose in the second round, get to the Final Four - really we don't have as much control of that as we do our culture. If we maintain our culture and slip out of the top 10 - maybe to the top 20 or 25, maintaining our culture is what will give us the best chance of getting back in there. If we are trying to do everything just to stay in the top 10 we may lose it and not be able to get it back.
VUSports: Do you expect fan expectations to become unreasonable now that you have won the whole thing?
Jay Wright: I think it is natural. We have won the most games of any program in the country, I think, over the last three years. That means our fans have experienced the most wins over the last three years and the least losses. It is natural human behavior to get into that habit of expecting to win. The expectation levels are going to get higher, it is part of sports. The amount of Villanova people, and I don't know if we can quantify this, that traveled to the NCAA Tournament and even that went to Houston I would argue was larger than any program except Kansas. In Louisville, Kansas had more people. I felt visually and audibly it sounded and looked like there were more Villanova people at every venue. If you are going to get that kind of support then what comes with that is that at times when you lose you are going to get some negativity. You can't have it both ways. I would rather have it this way - to take the negativity when we lose but have that support when we win. I think our guys understand that. I felt that we had a home court advantage every game in the NCAA Tournament except the Kansas game. Even the North Carolina game, I just felt like we did and I think we benefited from that. The price is that when we lose we are going to get criticized for it and I am okay with that - I get it.
VUSports: Now that you have won it all, what do you do to personally feel "challenged" - what are your next career goals?
Jay Wright: When we would lose in the second round or when we were 13 and 19, we would do this interview and I would say to you that every year is a new year, a new challenge, a new group of guys - it excites me. Even if the same guys come back they are different because they have different expectations being a year older … so the same thing rings true now. I used to say to you, after losing in the second round, that it is not going to define us - that we still feel good about what we are doing and we still need to prove ourselves next year. Same thing now. We won it this time but that is not going to define us. We are psyched about this new challenge next year. Coming off the National Championship is a different challenge. Last year was a unique challenge in that we knew that no matter what we did during the regular season it just didn't matter to anybody - you just had to get past the second round. That was a challenge because those games did mean a lot to the players and we wanted to make sure they understood that - and they did. Now, the challenge is different. You are the National Champion and people are going to talk to you about repeating and that can't be our goal. Our goal has to be that however everybody comes back, however we play, whatever happens, we have to keep getting better every day [banging his fist on the table for emphasis] and at the end of the year be the best team that we can be. Everything that comes with that is exciting to me, is challenging to me and that is the beauty of college. If you are in the NBA you may have the same guys for four years but here you have different guys It is going to be really fun to coach. It is going to be completely different. Not having Ryan and Daniel to me is scary - that fear initiates some competitiveness, it initiates some drive. There is no complacency on my part at all. I am as excited about this season coming up as about any season we have had. How can we identify the challenges and how we can take them on.
VUSports: That seemed to be the hallmark of the team - move on to the next play, the next game, now it is the next season ...
Jay Wright: There are two things that impressed me the most about the team this season. How they approached the Iowa game was one. I could sense from everybody else, from the local media, from our fans, even from our administration the anxiety that we just had to get past this game. The players had none. It showed that what we talked about all season really resonated with them.
The second was when, with 4.7 seconds left, Paige hits that shot. We had blown a ten point lead, we executed perfectly defensively, we switched that screen on Paige, Daniel was right there to steal it - such a good spot that they should never have thrown the pass - he had it and then they made that crazy shot.
We know that in a normal human being's mind, especially a Philadelphia fan, it is like, "alright this is typical, we played great, we came close, but … [someone else wins]"
… but then in the huddle …
[Coach recreates what the players were saying when they arrived at the huddle]
... Attitude [clapping], We got this [clapping], Attitude …not the coaches [mind you], the players showing complete calm and a complete "next play" mentality. Whether Kris hit the shot or not … that is why I went [lipping] BANG! Because I had already said to myself 'their approach to this is so impressive to me and this is what we really preach". Can you can handle situations in life like that?
Look, we made mistakes and if we had lost people would have said "they blew the lead, they came that close, they didn't foul [up by 3 on a last possession], they gave up a three" … they would have been criticized forever - we all would have and they knew it and they didn't care - next play. They were focused on "we can't control what happened but what can we control?". Lets put our best effort into executing the next play - and they did it perfectly.
Kris Jenkins doesn't make that shot and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't make that decision to pass it if their minds aren't clear. If their minds are still on "we blew that lead" then they can't make those plays, they can't make that shot. That impressed me so much about those guys and we want them to take that into life - that they can handle any situation and concentrate on the next day or the next play in life - not that they made a shot or they have a ring. That is what really impressed me. I just said to our staff recently "we as coaches have to coach and work the way those guys played". We have to take a lesson from our own players that every detail counts, everything matters, be the best on every play, be the best every day at work. This is a really unique group of guys.
Video: After hearing Coach Wright's perspective on the psyche of his team in those final moments of the 2016 National Championship game, it interesting to, once again, watch those final plays unfold: