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Newsday (New York)


SAN ANTONIO - Starting with Donte DiVincenzo, who had been in a suit and sitting on the bench when his team won the NCAA championship two years ago, just about everyone involved with Villanova basketball was in a different role when it won another title Monday night. The solitary exception was the guy wearing a nicely tailored suit both times.

Jay Wright is the constant for the two-time champion and, according to players then and now, the main reason why the Wildcats have been able to climb ladders and cut down nets then and now.

"I definitely think he'll be in the Hall of Fame," said Ryan Arcidiacono, the point guard in 2016 and a spectator at the victory over Michigan this time. "I think that speaks for itself. I think he's a great coach, one of the best coaches."

Arcidiacono, who has split the season between the G League and the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, flew in to watch the game, as did Kris Jenkins, who took the point guard's pass and made the shot that beat North Carolina in 2016, and Josh Hart, a Lakers rookie. All of them did so out of loyalty to the school and its coach. They all still refer to the Wildcats as "we."

"We don't get the five-stars, the one-and-dones," Arcidiacono said of the team's recruits. "We'll take them, but I think coach Wright does a great job developing the three- , four- , four-and-a-half star guys, getting them to buy in."

After the most recent title, national player of the year Jalen Brunson and teammate Mikal Bridges are expected to opt out, to the NBA. That also is a possibility for DiVincenzo, who missed the 2016 run because of a broken foot but more than made up for it with 31 points off the bench Monday.

The question is whether an NBA team will make a strong bid for the coach. Wright repeatedly has said he had considered such a move in the past and always adds that he is happy right where he is. He said as much after the confetti had fallen Monday, too.

"I just have the best job in the country: my hometown, my wife's alma mater, my favorite team growing up," said the man known for his impeccable wardrobe and for his track record, which began with his head coaching job at Hofstra. "And I've got a great president, great AD, Father Peter (Donohue) and Mark Jackson. I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great kids to coach. As a coach, there's nothing better."

As much as he had loved and believed in the team that won the Big East Tournament, he really came to believe in its championship possibilities after seeing how his players handled the physical challenge of facing West Virginia in the third round. "You get into a mindset: 'Don't screw this up. You've got a really good team here, really good kids. You've got a shot,'" he said.

It is an open question whether DiVincenzo, a redshirt sophomore, will assume the leadership role from Brunson or will leave with him for the pros. "I'm not focused on any of that right now. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment with these guys," the player said on the court right after the game, with a piece of a net wedged into his cap.

A more appealing question for Villanova people was one about which of the two championship teams in the past three years was better. Jenkins, having praised the current group lavishly, smiled when he heard that one.

"I've said the team two years ago because this team, they learned from us," he said. "You can't beat the teacher, not just yet."

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April 4, 2018


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