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.
By ADAM ZAGORIAHOUSTON — Christ the King coach Joe Arbitello was driving one day in the spring of 2015 when his cell phone rang.
It was Villanova coach Jay Wright calling to say that the school, which was among the first to offer a scholarship to star guard Rawle Alkins during his time at the New York Catholic league powerhouse, would no longer be recruiting him. (SNY.tv reported last July that Villanova was no longer involved for the 6-foot-4 Alkins).
“He said Rawle wasn’t going to come in and just start because guys weren’t leaving,” Arbitello, who has known Wright for many years, told SNY.tv by phone from New York. “Jay was just being honest, unlike a lot of college guys.”
Alkins ultimately pledged to Arizona last month over St. John’s, UNLV, N.C. State and North Carolina, but the situation with Villanova is instructive in how they run their recruiting.
While some consider Alkins a potential one-and-done talent, Villanova knew they would have a slew of experienced perimeter players returning in 2016-17 — potentially including Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo — and wouldn’t necessarily be able to offer Alkins significant playing time.
“I just couldn’t see myself in a Villanova uniform,” Alkins, who was also recruited by North Carolina after moving to Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God Academy, told SNY.tv. “I have the most respect for Coach Wright and Villanova and think they’re playing absolutely insane but I just didn’t think it fit my playing style and it wasn’t the right fit.”
Villanova has no guards coming in next season, just two frontcourt players in Dylan Painter and Omari Spellman. They will learn from Darryl Reynolds, who will replace Daniel Ochefu as Villanova’s primary big man.
The 6-9 Spellman — the No. 3-ranked center in the Class of 2016 according to 247Sports.com — may have the talent to be a one or two-and-done type of player, sources close to the Villanova program said.
Interestingly, Villanova assistant Ashley Howard told SNY.tv that Villanova just hasn’t had the “litmus test’ yet of a potential one-and-done player coming into the program.
“If it fit we would take those guys but we just haven’t had the litmus test yet,” Howard said in the Villanova locker room on Sunday. “If we had a guy that came in and it was the right fit at the right time then I think we would be able to do it.”
Instead, he said, Villanova opts to rely on the players they already have, giving them room to improve over time.
“I think a lot of times with recruiting now, guys look to see which guys are leaving which programs so it’s almost like a perfect fit [for them],” Howard said. “We have guys that are in the program so they may not necessarily be the fit but if it was the right fit I think we would take a kid [who might be one-and-done] if he fit a need of ours.”
A year ago, Duke won the national championship with three eventual one-and-dones in Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. Kentucky has regularly reached the Final Four with a slew of one-and-dones — and won the title in 2012 with the top two draft picks as one-and-dones in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
But that’s not how Villanova rolls, not at all.
In the last three years, the Wildcats have won three straight Big East regular season titles, one Big East tournament championship and advanced to an NCAA championship game without a single one-and-done.
No current Villanova player — freshman or otherwise — is listed on the 2016 Mock Draft at DraftExpress.com. Hart, a junior, is listed at No. 41 in 2017, while Brunson is ranked the No. 31 best freshman by the site.
“I think Josh has a decision to make after this year,” Wright said. “Jalen was coming in, everybody was talking about it [one-and-done]. He was just concentrating on playing at Villanova.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with our recruiting whether you’re one-and-done or not. It’s just, Do you want to be a part of the Villanova community and culture and this program?”
At Kentucky, head coach John Calipari has created a culture that encourages one-and-dones. Canadian combo Jamal Murray left this year for the NBA after one season, and next year McDonald’s All-Americans De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk will come and replace Murray and whatever other guards leave this year (Tyler Ulis and/or Isaiah Briscoe).
To a similar extent, Duke has done the same thing. Incoming forwards Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles are the projected 1-2 picks in 2017, while current freshman forward Brandon Ingram is the projected No. 1 pick this year.
At Villanova, however, a guy like Brunson comes in and learns the system under Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono and isn’t necessarily asked to take over and star right away.
“I just think to be able to play in this program, to even learn how to play Villanova basketball, it’s going to take you more than one year to play,” Arcidiacono said.
“I would think Coach Wright has no problem taking a one-and-done guy as long as that kid knows how to play that type of basketball that we play on a daily basis.”
Added Hart: “This program, this culture is about high-character guys. A lot of guys that have been here love the family. I think that’s the reason why a lot of guys are able to stay around so long, because we genuinely love each other, we love the program, we love playing Villanova basketball.
“I don’t think it’s anything like Coach Wright has against anybody that could be a one-and-done. It’s nothing like that. We just recruit high-quality guys, guys who love the program, love the culture.”
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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.