VUSports: Last year you watched it all unfold while unable to play in games, this year you will be out there playing in the NCAAs and having an impact - how does that feel?
Donte DiVincenzo: It is great just to be playing. There isn’t pressure. You saw our bracket and it is a really tough bracket but there is no pressure we just know we need to go out there and play Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. That is what we want.
VUSports: How does it change your preparation process or schedule to be playing a team that is playing in the First Four. You won’t know your opponent until later than normal?
Donte DiVincenzo: Whoever we prepare, and either team is a tough team, we just have to prepare for what we do and focus on our habits and make sure that we are at our best going into the game no matter who we play.
VUSports: Can you explain what was going through your mind during the game-ending play against Seton Hall in the Championship game where you swatted the ball away from Angel Delgado as time expired.
Donte DiVincenzo: When we came down on defense we didn’t want to give up a three but when Delgado put up the ball in the lane I saw him go up and I saw the ball hit the rim and as it was coming off I didn’t know how much time was on the clock but I knew that he could have got a tip in and I just tried to swat it away. With a couple second left I knew if I got it away from him that the chances they would get it back up were slim.
VUSports: The teams approach seems very business-like this year, perhaps a little less emotional - is that because you now have more experience or that your attitude about it has changed?
Donte DiVincenzo: We appreciate everything and we know that what we accomplished this season was amazing but it is behind us now and we have another mountain to climb in this tournament. We have amazing teams in our bracket and a big challenge ahead of his so we have got to prepare for that.
VUSports: On a scale of 1 to 10 how hungry is this team?
Donte DiVincenzo: I would say a 10 - we want to get after it right away.
VUSports: Last year you were a practice player but had the opportunity to watch how that team approached playing in the NCAA Tournament. Now it is your turn - what is your mindset like going into the Tournament?
Eric Paschall: It feels good to be on the court this year. Last year just watching everything - it meant a lot. This year I can come out and contribute in any way I can.
VUSports: Was the Big East Tournament extra special for you being from the New York area.
Eric Paschall: Not really. I didn’t think about that at all. I was just out there trying to play for my teammates.
VUSports: You weren’t one of those kids that grew up thinking about playing at the Garden?
Eric Paschall: I’ve always thought about it but coming here we are so focused on what is happening on the court that sometimes I forgot I was even playing at MSG. I just try to play for these guys right here.
VUSports: The team appears to be quite business-like this year whereas last year you had that chip on the shoulder to go out and prove you could advance out of the first weekend. Do you think it is an advantage to being business-like … what is the “hunger-level” like for the team?
Eric Paschall: We are just trying to prepare ever day for our next game. That is what we are focused on for this whole tournament - the next game. We take it one game at a time.
VUSports: This is your first NCAA Tournament experience but you have the experience of teammates to rely on. What are you learning from them and what are your thoughts going in??
Dylan Painter: This is one of the main reasons why I came here - because I knew with all these great teammates that I would have a chance to play in the NCAAs. So I am really excited and I am confident playing behind all these guys that have the experience from last year. I am learning from them - they say “one game at a time”. You can’t look ahead because you never know what is going to happen.
VUSports: How would you say your confidence level has changed over the last month - first with the injury to Darryl Reynolds and then finding yourself on the court in Madison Square Garden playing for a Big East Championship?
Dylan Painter: The more I play the more confident I get. Every game I am learning new things from the older guys or getting game experience. That makes my confidence go up and I feel like I am playing better and better.
VUSports: As far as the speed of the game, do you feel that the practice against all these high level guys is enough to get you up to speed or do you really have to get in game situations to feel comfortable with the speed of the game?
Dylan Painter: Practice helped a little bit but it is completely different in games. Once I got playing in a couple games things slowed down tremendously and they keep slowing down with every game I play.
VUSports: Well, this is your last rodeo … you have experience the highs, the lows, as a Senior will you approach this tournament a little bit differently knowing that the next game could be your last?
Darryl Reynolds: I think the trick is to not think about it like that. Every game can be the last for any guys season. That is how we treated it last year. It wasn’t like “it could be our last but you will be coming back next year”. We treat it like “this is our last game”. When we approach it with that type of focus, that is when you have success.
VUSports: How do you feel, physically, coming back from the injury?
Darryl Reynolds: I feel great. I feel great.
VUSports: Close to 100% great or you are “sucking it up”?
Darryl Reynolds: No, I feel great.
VUSports: You guys are always locked in and focused on the next game but do you ever take a moment to reflect on the things you have accomplished - you have, as a Class, sixteen team trophies you added to the trophy case for Villanova basketball - what keep you motivated and hungry for that next game?
Darryl Reynolds: It is what you desire. We feed off of competing. So if you have a chance to compete, which is the next game, that is what it is about - not being focused on what you did or had before. There are different ways to approach it, some guys approach it like that but that is not how we do it. We desire that chance to keep competing, keep competing, keep competing and go after it like that. That is what has kept this program going.
VUSports: So how would you compare the 210 BET Championship to the 2017 one the other night. The first seemed more emotional and this one more business-like - was there a difference in your approach?
Darryl Reynolds: It was a difference in the approach obviously because we hadn’t been there before [in 2015]. The year before we had lost in the first round. And then last year we made it there and lost. So it was a difference in that “we know what gets this done, we know what doesn’t get this done and we know where our minds were both times”. I think that is what it was. We also understood that last year made it to that point, lost it, but we didn’t let that break us - we learned from it and got better. This year, we made it to that point and won but we can’t let that make us - we gotta learn from it and get better.
VUSports: Do you feel a little different approaching the NCAA Tournament this time knowing that each game has the potential to be you last game in a Villanova uniform?
Kris Jenkins: I haven’t had that feeling but I know that if we all go out there and we leave it all on the line then there is no failure in that We will be ready to go though. Our coaches do a great job of having us ready to go and these guys right here [motioning toward his teammates] they want to win, they want to play Villanova basketball they want to keep getting better and that is what we are going to do.
VUSports: You were interviewed on the court of Madison Square Garden after winning the BET on Saturday night and you were so composed and collected - my wife was stunned to learn you are a Sophomore - to what do you attribute your ability to be so calm under pressure, so poised and to maintain that poker face 24/7?
Jalen Brunson: Beside the fact that Coach Wright does a great job of preparing me for situations like this and situations on the court, it has been my parents. The way they raised me to be humble, to be poised, to not let anything affect you no matter what is going on … not being too high not being too low - as long as I keep that even keel. That is honestly how I have been for as long as I can remember. I have always been the guy who stays like this. I may get excited. I may get sad, but no matter what I am going to get back to that level because that is just how my parents raised me.
VUSports: There was an interesting video clip last season where you and Ryan Arcidiacono were sitting on the bench - and Arch gave you what looked like a couple supportive taps on the leg as if to point something out … what from your experience playing with Arch last year is going to help you out the most going into the tournament this year as the lead guard now?
Jalen Brunson: Just the way that Arch taught me the ways of Villanova basketball has definitely helped me this whole year and last year as well. I am just excited that I get to go out there and play with my teammates again, for at least one more game. With Ryan and the things he has done for me it has really helped and it is something that I cherish. When I think about my Villanova moment - he taught me how to be a Villanova leader how to lead within the system, how to lead these guys. He honestly just taught me everything about Villanova basketball.
VUSports: How is your mental approach to the tournament perhaps a little bit different this year knowing that you aren’t blending in so much as being the guy tasked with knowing when the team needs you to go get a bucket, or needs you to go set up a particular player with a certain shot?
Jalen Brunson: The one thing that Ryan taught me that really helped is being a defensive player and focusing on rebounding to make sure we get stops. On offense there are going to be times you have droughts there are going to be times when the ball is just not going in but you just have to focus on getting a stop. What are you going to do when shots stop falling? Are you going to quit on yourselves? No, you are going to get stops no matter what is happening. As long as you are continuing to get stops. That is what has helped me with my offensive game - focusing on defending and rebounding.