Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Villanova’s Jay Wright says he would ‘love’ some one-and-dones, but Coach K and John Calipari ‘do the best job of that’
By ADAM ZAGORIAPITTSBURGH — Jay Wright reiterated that he would “love” to get some one-and-done players at Villanova, but conceded that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari “do the best job” with such players.
In the one-and-done era, only Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2015 have won the NCAA championship while relying heavily on one-and-dones. Villanova won it in 2016 without a single one-and-done, while North Carolina captured the title in 2017 with one-and-done Tony Bradley coming off the bench; he was Carolina’s first one-and-done in a decade.
“I think the reason the Dukes and Kentuckys have won it, and I really mean this, I don’t think anyone understands how difficult it is to coach freshmen in high-level games,” said Wright, whose top-seeded Wildcats face No. 16 Radford in an East Regional game here at 6:50 ET on Thursday. “I don’t care how good they are. I don’t care if it’s LeBron. You just haven’t been expected to have the kind of detail needed to play. And I think John and Coach K. do the best job of that, right? So that’s rare in itself.”
Wright said only a very small number of freshmen are talented enough to lead a team an NCAA title — and that Duke may have such a group this year, along with senior Grayson Allen.
“And then there are only so many of those guys that are one-and-done that are capable of winning National Championships,” he said. “You can be one-and-done and be capable of having a potential great pro career, but you might not be good enough at that time to win a National Championship. Those guys have some of those guys. Duke might have some of those guys now and Kentucky maybe, too.
“And then the rest of it is, when those guys are playing against older experienced guys — you know, we’re playing against a kid, [Randy] Phillips, who is a senior at Radford and I’m showing Omari [Spellman] is a freshman. I’m showing him the attention to detail that Phillips has as a senior that Omari doesn’t have yet. It’s the same with one-and-done guys. They are seniors and might be first-round picks, but they are greater basketball players and that’s why those teams win.”
Villanova junior Mikal Bridgesis one of five projected lottery picks here, along with Duke freshmen Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Wright again joked that he’d love to have players of that caliber, but said they’d have to fit in with the Villanova Way.
“I like all of those one-and-done guys that we don’t get, I love those guys,” said Wright, whose team has won back-to-back Big East Tournament titles and three of the last four. “I would love them to come to Villanova. I just lay it out for what it is, and they usually decide they don’t want to come. They’re all good guys and a lot of them are really good student.”
For example, Villanova was involved with Rawle Alkins of Arizona, who may go pro after his sophomore season, but decided it wasn’t the best fit.
“I will tell certain really good students, I would say, if your parents can afford it, you should go to the Ivy League, but if they can’t, you should go to Villanova,” Wright said.
“But I never tell those guys, you shouldn’t come here. I tell them this is what this is. This is what we do. And you have to want to enjoy being in college. If you’re here, two, three years and just be happy, you’ll love this place. But if you don’t, you probably won’t like it, and then they figure that out. They usually tell us no.”
Jalen Brunson, a Naismith Award finalist, will graduate in three years, but is expected to be a second-round pick. He said Villanova players enjoy playing with one another, and aren’t in any hurry to get to the pros.
“I think it’s the family atmosphere as always with the coaches here,” Brunson said. “The atmosphere that pervades with the teammates. Coaches, just have great chemistry on and off the court. I think these guys like being with college guys, like working on the game, getting an education for sure. Villanova is a great institution for that.
“We’re really glad to be together, working hard together. Grinding on big names together. Everything we do, we do it together.”
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said Villanova’s approach is just as successful as the Duke/Kentucky approach, but that Wright is uniquely suited for the Villanova Way.
“I think it takes a unique gift to coach those [one-and-done] guys,” Williams said. “And it’s a different gift than the gift that Coach Wright has, because the consistency of Villanova at the level they’ve performed at, it’s not the same manner that Kentucky and Duke have went about those things. It’s just as unique of a gift, though, to develop those guys, and get as old as you can and stay as old as you can.
“But those guys continue to improve, and you’re staying in National Championship contender status. So, different ways to skin a cat, for sure, but the gift that Jay Wright has, in my opinion, is just as unique as the gift that Coach Cal has, just as unique, just completely different. I don’t think either/or is wrong. It’s just their approach in how they go about it.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.