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.
With a roster loaded with seniors, juniors and experienced sophomores, Villanova coach Jay Wright likes his team going into the 2008-09 college basketball season.
In a brutal league that could send as many as 10 teams to the Big Dance, experience will count for a lot.
Villanova finished 22-13 a year ago, 9-9 in the Big East, which was good enough for an eighth-place finish. This year’s squad certainly has enough talent and maturity to improve on that placement.
“This year, in the preseason, we have great leaders in (Dante) Cunningham and (Dwayne) Anderson and (Shane) Clark and Frank Tchuisi, they just run things on their own,” Wright said during an extended interview. “You have sophomores in (Corey) Stokes and (Corey) Fisher and (Antonio) Pena who had good freshmen years, learned a lot and are playing like veterans. We only have one freshman, (6-11 center) Maurice Sutton, so it’s been really fun playing with an experienced group.” He also pointed out that Duke transfer Taylor King comes with a year of experience under Coach K.
Wright just listed almost his entire roster and didn’t yet mention star junior guard Scottie Reynolds, who averaged team-highs of 15.9 points and 3.2 assists last year despite facing a number of injuries.
“You know, he was really banged up last year,” Wright said. “We didn’t talk about it a lot, but he had a lot of nagging injuries and played through them. At the end of the year, he finally got healthy and that’s when our team started to click.
“I think you’re going to see a healthy, mature Scottie Reynolds. I think he’s really starting to understand the point guard position better at the end of last year. He’s healthy and very mature and we’re really excited about what he can do this year.”
Reynolds could well leave for the NBA after his junior season, and Wright said that conversation will happen after the year.
“If he’s in a good position in terms of the NBA guys, I will support him 100 percent,” Wright said. “He’s so good academically, I never worry about coming back for his degree.”
As for Fisher, a Bronx native who led St. Patrick of Elizabeth to back-to-back Tournament of Champions titles under Kevin Boyle, Wright sees another player with significant experience under his belt who can run the point.
“At this point last year, Corey Fisher had never played a Big East game,” Wright said. “Now he hit a 3 at the NCAA tournament against Clemson that won the game for us. So if I’m talking to him, ‘You’ve got that under your belt. You’re a completely different person. Conditioning level, maturity, everything is just 100 percent better. He really changed his body.”
As for Stokes, a former McDonald’s All-American who played for Dan Hurley at St. Benedict’s Prep, he struggled early with his shot during his freshman season.
“I think the intensity and the speed just shocked him,” Wright said.
But Stokes came on strong down the stretch, averaging 12 points in his last 12 games, including in the Big East and NCAA tournaments. He scored a career-high 20 in a second-round upset of Siena in the Big Dance.
Since then, Stokes has improved his body dramatically.
“After going through his first Big East season, he really motivated himself in terms of strength training and conditioning to change his body, to change his conditioning level,” Wright said.
6-10 junior center Casiem Drummond from Bloomfield Tech broke his ankle last year and probably won’t be ready until the first day of practice.
Wright will need all of his available players because he believes the Big East is supremely loaded, and like most coaches, he puts Louisville and UConn at the top.
“This league, it’s incredible and no one’s really slipping,” he said. “Everyone’s getting better.
“I think that Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Marquette could be right there, I really do.”
The Wildcats open Nov. 14 against Albany and then play in the Philly Classic at the Palestra around Thanksgiving. They face Rick Barnes and Texas in the Jimmy V Classic Dec. 9 at MSG. The Cats also come to Seton Hall Jan. 6.
“We got a great schedule,” Wright said.
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.