Growing up in a house that was full of UConn grads and fans, I really had no choice but to throw my fandom around the Huskies. I mean, what wasn’t to like? Jim Calhoun’s eternal greatness, Kemba Walker’s heroics, and the two national titles over the first 18 years of my life were certainly something I look back on favorably.
But, with all great teams come rivals. UConn fans had many of them, but three were made apparent to me from a young age. Duke (obviously), Syracuse (obviously), and Villanova…super-obviously.
It’s not hard to understand the reasons for having vendettas against Duke and ‘Cuse. Coach K and Jim Boeheim, regardless of the culture of winning they established at their respective programs, had auras about them that were simply hateable. They won major playoff games, are champions forever, and produced NBA-caliber talent every single year.
But Jay Wright? You hated him for a different reason…and to be frank, it wasn’t a true hate. It was a glimpse of what true dominance looked like. And history will prove Jay Wright’s impact on college basketball.
Wright, after 21 seasons at the helm of the Villanova Wildcats program, has retired from coaching, per John Fanta and others. His resume boasts 2 NCAA Championships, 4 Final Four appearances, 10 conference regular season championships, and 5 Big East Tournament championships. Wright will additionally go down as a 2-time Naismith College Coach of the Year and a 6-time Big East Coach of the Year.
Wright’s culture of winning wasn’t just something that he was lucky to stumble into; it was a product of his whole life. He was a standout guard at Council Rock North High School in small-town Pennsylvania; he even scored 69 points in a single game his senior year. He surrounded himself with like-minded, ambitious guys on the Bucknell basketball team and in the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He was trained by the great Rollie Massimino, who preceded Wright at Villanova. In his first break as a head coach, he turned a struggling Hofstra Pride program into one of the top teams in the America East. He took the Pride to their first two NCAA tournaments in years, and stayed competitive as a high seed.
When Jay Wright got his break at Villanova, the ‘Cats struggled for the first couple of years. But only the naive wrote off his ability to be successful. Villanova went on to terrorize its Big East opponents in the next 21 seasons. Over Wright’s tenure, the Cats played to six separate 30-win seasons, with Big East Championships, net-cutting ceremonies, and celebrations laden among them. Villanova only finished with a sub-500 record twice, and never had a single season with less than thirteen wins.
Among the greatest moments in Wright's career are Villanova's two national championship victories in 2016 and 2018. Who can forget one of the best buzzer beaters of all time in 2016? With overtime imminent after an off-balance UNC three-pointer, many thought it'd just be a desparation heave for the 'Cats.
Khris Jenkins had other plans.
And, of course, 2016 produced Jay Wright's most calm, cool, and collected moment. I mean, imagine winning the national title and just mumbling "bang?!" Stone cold.
Even though Jay Wright being gone should bring joy to Big East rivals, it’s difficult to not yearn for it back. Wright is the pioneer of one of the most clinical, methodical styles of basketball in recent history…at any level. It appears the NBA is all but out of the question, as Wright - 60 - will attempt to spend more time with his family. I think, even though he may not admit it, he'd be a perfect candidate for television, especially in tandem with John Fanta on Fox or FS1. For now, all we can do is wish him well.
Jay Wright becomes one of the best to ever coach this game. He's in basketball eternity.