Rich Hofmann: Villanova's Wright climbs coaching ladder, but remains grounded

Jay Wright joins in net-cutting after 'Nova earned Final Four trip.
Jay Wright joins in net-cutting after 'Nova earned Final Four trip.
Posted: March 30, 2009

BOSTON - It might be a

cliche, but it was the question nonetheless as Villanova coach Jay Wright tried to process the emotions he felt in the minutes after his team made it to the Final Four. In his profession, it is an accomplishment that tends to separate people sometimes, in both a public-relations sense and a real sense. Final Four coach. It is one heck of a line on the resume.

You wondered if it might indeed be life-changing, and Wright was insistent.

"I'm going to make sure it's not," he said. "There's a lot more things that are important to me than getting to the Final Four."

Because this is who Jay Wright is:

In the celebratory swirl on Saturday night, after Scottie Reynolds crashed into the lane and corralled the NCAA Tournament's East Regional championship, Wright gathered his players. Afterward, somebody wondered what he was telling them when he had them all huddled up together. A podium was being hastily constructed on the floor for the awards ceremony. The Villanova band was playing. Hats were worn. Hugs were exchanged. Wright probably had to scream, "There's a lot more things that are important to me than getting to the Final Four," so his team could hear him above the joy.

And this is what he told them: that Frank Tchuisi should have the honor of taking the final snip when they cut down the nets.

Tchuisi is the senior who never plays. But, as Wright said later: "He's the greatest kid in the world and he does so much for us that people don't see. It's

really to honor the seniors."

That is Jay Wright. That has nothing to do with the Final Four.

And then there was this:

The coach found a lot of time for huddles and hugs in the midst of that celebration. It had been such an outrageously good game against Pittsburgh, probably the best of the tournament so far. It was tied with 5.5 seconds left because of a confluence of emotion-driven plays that went bad for the Wildcats: Reggie Redding tried for an ill-advised long bomb of an inbounds pass that Dante Cunningham couldn't handle, which led to a turnover and a foul and two free throws by Pitt's Levance Fields. Reynolds then won it in the end, touching off a party as if it were 1985.

On the court, Wright would hug his wife, Patty, and their kids, and talk for a minute. But he would say later, "All I was worried about was if we lost that game, I wanted to make sure Reggie Redding felt good about himself. That's all I was worried about."

That, too, is Jay Wright. That, too, has nothing to do with the Final Four.

You hang around him a little bit and you see someone who is proud of his work and his school and his players, but who has never lost sight of the fact that he is getting paid a lot of money to do something he loves - and to participate in something that is bigger than him. He has the sense of scale exactly right. He seems to know who he is, and what he is, and where he is - and that there are times when he is simply along for a wonderful ride, like when Reynolds made that final play.

"That's going to be one of those shots that you're always going to see, and that's so cool," Wright said. "It's great for your program. It's great for the kid - Scottie could be 30 and they'll still be playing that. Forty. That's the blessing of being involved in this.

"All of us who coach at this level, who play at this level, if we ever think that we're not blessed - I mean, come on, man. Being in all of this - seriously, we are so lucky to be here, and that's what comes of it. Now you're going to watch that forever."

It was late as Wright stood in a small alcove near the Villanova dressing room. Most of the well-wishers had gone. The team was on the bus, waiting for their coach to get done. But there were a few more questions - some about the game, most about the grand fallout. And Wright stood there and marveled at the idea of what the campus must have been like as the final buzzer sounded.

He said: "I wish I could just sit up in a blimp and watch them all and stay out of it. I don't need to be celebrating, I'm too tired. But I would just like to watch them all, just a glass of wine and watch them all enjoy it. It's

really pretty cool."

Wright is the hottest of hot coaches right now and seems simultaneously flattered and embarrassed about it. All he wanted to talk about was his team, and about home.

"I'm so into our guys right now, into our family and our team," he said. "I know Philly takes pride in having a team go to the Final Four - I know that and I love it for Philly basketball. It's done so much for all of us. That's what I'm into right now.

"I'm proud that now we get to be a part of that lore, of Villanova at the Final Four, and the La Salle teams [in the early 1950s], and the other Villanova teams. I'm really proud of that, of that maybe more than anything."

Soon, the bus beckoned. Next up is Detroit and the Final Four and a national semifinal matchup against North Carolina. All of it is entwined, though, with this great mass of people for whose dreams this man is now the custodian.

And Jay Wright said: "They're so happy. They're happier than me, way happier than me."

And the thing was, even through his smile, you could tell it was true. *

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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