VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — All Jay Wright needs is a digital recorder and a notebook and he’d have a successful career as a sports reporter.
He already has great sources.
Wright, starting his 11th season at Villanova, works the phones for the next big tip that could affect Villanova’s future. He’ll be set to leave his office for practice when he’s delayed by a phone call from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins or a text from Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
“I heard ‘this’ is going to happen,” Wright said, laughing at the various gossip he’s heard about the Big East’s future.
The Big East faces an uncertain next few years. This team is coming. Those teams are going. The Big East’s expansion moves alone could just about fill up the transactions wire each day. Few schools are in flux like Villanova. The football program competes at the Football Championship Subdivision level (formerly Division I-AA), which could leave the Wildcats out in the cold of a major hoops league if the conference ever splits into a football/basketball grouping.
Wright has openly lobbied for the Big East to accept the football program. He’s been forced to defend the school after it was accused of wanting to keep Temple, Philadelphia’s other basketball power, out of the Big East.
“I’m not worried, I’m concerned,” about the program’s future, Wright said. “I’ve learned that usually the things you worry about don’t happen, then the things that you never even thought of, happen, which is happening right now.”
Wright has discussed nearly every topic on the college basketball landscape over the last two months — except rarely this season’s team.
For the first time since Wright returned the Wildcats to a regular spot in the NCAA tournament in 2004-05, not much is expected out his Wildcats. They are unranked in The Associated Press preseason poll and were picked eighth in the Big East coaches’ poll.
Walk-on Dallas Ouano is the only senior and the Wildcats have to go all the way back to Feb. 19 for the last time they won a game. Riding high in the polls and the Big East standings, the Wildcats suffered a major meltdown with six straight losses, including a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t think anything like that ever leaves your mind,” Wright said. “We’ve tried to make it within our program, the end of last year, a positive. There were a lot of positives. The negatives were apparent.”
They were once ranked as high as No. 5 but failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
“We never felt no panic or nothing like that about having to win the next game,” junior guard Maalik Wayns said. “We kept it the same way. We just kept playing. Hopefully this year, it will be different.”
On the outside, the Wildcats (21-12, 9-9 Big East) seem far removed from a program that reached the Final Four in 2009.
Not on the Main Line.
Wright has never been a coach that talks down about his team. He’s always openly believed in them and feels this year’s Wildcats could be in the mix to finish near the top of the Big East.
Wayns can be dynamic at times and will likely be the next Villanova guard that lands in the NBA. Mouphtaou Yarou, the 6-foot-10 forward, has shown flashes of becoming a reliable force in the middle. Perhaps the most intriguing prospect is forward JayVaughn Pinkston, a highly-touted recruit who was forced to sit out last season when the university suspended him after he was charged with assault.
He couldn’t set foot on campus and only watched games live when the Wildcats played at the Wells Fargo Center.
Pinkston described himself the same way scouts did when he was a Top 100 recruit: “a big playmaker.”
Pinkston, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was named a McDonald’s All-American at Bishop Loughlin. He was named New York’s Player of the Year as a senior. But an off-campus altercation ended his season before it started and provided him with a valuable life lesson.
“Just to let things go. Don’t take it so personal,” Pinkston said.
Who knows, Pinkston might have helped prevent one or two of those losses during the season-ending tailspin.
Wright asked players at the end of last year to block out the critics when they arrived at practice. He has to follow his own advice this season on the Big East talks.
“It’s taken up a lot of our time,” Wright said. “When we come down here to the practice court, it’s a discipline that we try and teach the players. We have a term we use called, Be Here Now. Concentrate on what they’re doing at this time. No matter what happened in the classroom, when you step on the court, you’ve got to forget about it. Well, the Coach has got to practice that this year really well.”
The good news is most of the other Big East teams are dealing with the same issues.
“Where we’re going to be in a few years, I don’t know,” Wright said, “but I know we will be very significant because it’s important to Villanova.”