Defending National Champion, Villanova has the unique opportunity to get in some extra practice this summer ... up to ten practices leading up to the Wildcat's foreign trip to play in Spain in early August. Not only do these practices serve as preparation for Spain but also as early opportunities to indoctrinate the new players into how to play Villanova basketball.
Monday, August 1st, is Summer Jam and the Cats will play an "open to the public", blue-white scrimmage as part of the festivities and fans will get their first opportunity to see Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter in a Villanova uniform. It will also be the first chance for most to see Eric Paschall and Tim Delaney as well.
At a recent practice, VUSports saw all four of these players blending in with some far more familiar faces in Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Kris Jenkins, Donte Divincenzo, and several of the new walk-ons. Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson were at the Nike Skills camp and did not participate. Darryl Reynolds watched from the sidelines given a minor injury.
If you are one of those who is into uniform numbers - Spellman sported #14, Painter #42 and Paschall #4. Tim Delaney wore #20 - a change from the #34 he was identified with on last year's roster.
An early portion of the practice was dedicated to practicing transition defense - explaining the "rim protecting" responsibilities of the first man back and how each subsequent player back is expected to match-up and respond to the initial thrust of the offense. The practice shifted to half-court offensive sets - starting from stacks and switching to two primary spreads featuring player movement and ball screens designed to keep everyone in motion and defenses reacting to each shot-fake, pass-fake and pass. Interestingly, Coach Wright was able to use the absence of two of the primary guard options as an example of the power of having some sets designed to get forwards looks and some that are more guard-oriented. If there is foul trouble or an injury to multiple guards, the standard offenses can be run to get looks for the players that are available.
The play of Phil Booth stood out in this practice. He ran the point flawlessly and seemingly knocked down every open jumper. On one particular possession on which Coach Wright specifically asked him to be aggressive looking for his own shot he came down, broke down two defenders using a high ball screen and dropped in a fall-away jumper in the lane similar to one he drained in the Championship game. The practice was immediately halted - not because Booth was in error but to explain what was done incorrectly off the ball by the newbie's while Booth was busy scoring. Booth seemed very mobile but perhaps not back at 100% and he was playing with his left knee in a sleeve. Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job handling some point guard duties as well. He appears to be poised to take on more responsibilities and a larger role this season.
Practices serve as a great opportunity to watch Coach Wright plying his trade. He emphasizes in practice the little things that are the most important to him and he is always looking to motivate and teach. Practices run like clockwork, there is no wasted time and the staff and players are always laser-focused on the task at hand.
At one point, Coach Wirght directed a comment about the need to sprint during offensive drills to one of the new walk-ons: “if I needed someone to walk through drills I could easily find someone to walk – I need you to sprint”.
As the team ran through offensive sets against zone defenses he emphasized the importance of catching to shoot, the value of the hop jumper as a tool to get off mid-range shots in the soft spot of the 2-3 zone and when is the proper time to flash to the high post against zone defenses. Little things - like always making a bounce passes to the post against the zone (with the exception of the lob to the post) are rules that are constantly reinforced in practice in order to set habits that are repeated in the pressures of game situations.
There was an interesting learning experience for the players where Coach Wright first stopped practice to mention to Jenkins the value of flashing to the high post when the ball is kicked back out to the perimeter against the zone and then, two plays later, stopped it again to describe the same thing to one of the newbies. Coach Wright told the team "one reason we were so successful last season is that we never had to have two-a-day practices or long practices because of having to repeat things because we didn’t listen and learn properly the first time through".
Later during live, full-court drills, Bridges and Spellman made a decision to switch defensively in transition in a way that was not "by rule" but was effective because of the positioning and movement of Bridges and Spellman in relation to the offensive players. Coach Wright took a moment to explain why what the players did was a smart basketball decision and was a great example of why perfect teamwork is valued over perfection execution. Bridges saw he was in better position to guard the more threatening offensive player at that moment and Spellman properly reacted to Bridges decision to cover the next closest man to his required assignment.
One of the best plays of the practice was one on which Bridges showed great hustle and quickness. It was during a drill which involves 3 defenders and all 5 offensive players running out in transition up court while two players, whose names get called out right as the ball goes up for the rebound, are required to sprint from half-court to the endline and then race back up the court behind the play to get back in the action. Bridges did so quickly enough to challenge and block a Delaney three-point attempt after the first pass made by the offense to the slot.
In general, the Cats played very aggressively on offense in terms of players taking open shots when presented - without hesitation. Anything cleaned up in the lane is dunked back in as quickly as possible. Open, clean jumpers are almost always taken - the walk-ons were a little more generous about passing up clean looks - but the rotation players took good shots while continually looking for better ones for a teammate.
Dylan Painter and Omari Spellman were "all ears" and appeared highly receptive to coaching - taking in everything like sponges and really getting after it. Spellman is in decent shape but certainly has a ways to go to be in adequate shape to give full effort every play on defense for large minutes a game. He knocked down a couple of smooth mid-range Js and a turn-around bank-shot but for the most part, he just threw down dunks. Spellman has some bounce for a player his size. Painter got up and down the floor pretty well for a Frosh big but will likely be a guy that gets some coaching in regards to his running style. Daniel Ochefu improved in this regard over his four years because of a concerted effort to improve his gait and make him a more fluid runner. Painter is likely in the same situation. He powered home numerous dunks too - of course in these drills - many of times the rim is left unprotected.
Delaney was back at it as a full practice participant. He looked strong and pretty mobile though he didn’t get much elevation on his jumper. He knocked down a couple of threes.
Eric Paschall is a strong finisher around the rim, has great athleticism and he can knock down the open three-pointer as well. He should be an effective scoring option for the Cats this season.
Kris Jenkins shot the ball very well - he lacks nothing when it comes to confidence in shooting the rock - especially after hitting a shot heard round the basketball world.