On Saturday, Sept. 11, Villanova University's Jay Wright is set to become just the eighth active Division I men's college basketball head coach to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Joining Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and Bill Self, Wright will be placed alongside the most elite company of men's college basketball coaches, and rightfully so.
In 27 seasons as a head coach, Wright spent seven years at the helm at Hofstra University before turning Villanova into one of the best programs in college basketball over the last two decades.
Wright has tallied 612 career wins - the 15th-most among active coaches - and he is one of only nine Division-I coaches in men's college basketball history to accrue over 600 victories in fewer than 30 seasons.
Since taking over the head coaching job at Villanova in 2001, Wright has posted a 490-189 record (72.2 winning percentage) while also going an impressive 30-15 in the NCAA Tournament. He has led the Wildcats to eight Big East regular-season titles, four Big East Tournament championships, five Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, three Final Fours and two National Championship games, winning the title in both 2016 and 2018.
As a result of that success, Wright has been named Big East Coach of the Year six times - the most in the history of the prestigious college basketball conference - and earned Naismith Coach of the Year honours twice, in 2006 and 2016.
During a recent stretch of domination from 2014 to 2018, Wright entered a category of his own in college basketball history, becoming the first coach to win 30 or more games in four consecutive seasons. Villanova tallied a 136-16 record over that stretch, the most wins all-time in a four-year span. (It's worth noting: Memphis won 137 games during Calipari's last four seasons as head coach, but vacated games by the NCAA have removed that from the all-time record book).
And while the wins, records, accolades and championships are imposing in their own right, the most remarkable part is undoubtedly the culture that Wright has built at Villanova, turning the program into a powerhouse through a team-first mentality in an era where "one-and-done's" have reigned supreme.
According to 24/7 Sports' recruiting database, during Wright's 20 years as head coach at Villanova, he has only brought in 10 five-star recruits. For comparison, in the past five years (not including the 2021-22 recruiting class), Krzyzewski has had 22 five-star recruits at Duke, while Calipari has had 25 five-star recruits at Kentucky.
And yet, during Wright's tenure on the Main Line, only Duke, North Carolina and Connecticut have more National Championships (3 each) than Villanova, while Florida is tied with two.
Instead of chasing all of the five-star prospects in the country, Wright has developed a knack for finding the right players who fit Villanova's system that is represented by attitude and effort, a detailed focus on the defensive end and unselfish offence.
Even with a team-first approach, Wright has produced one National Player of the Year in Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (2018) and six Big East Player of the Year award winners in Brunson, former NBA veteran Randy Foye (2006), Chicago Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono (2016), New Orleans Pelicans forward Josh Hart (2017), Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (co-winner, 2021) and 2022 NBA Draft hopeful Collin Gillespie (co-winner, 2021).
Brunson also took home the Bob Cousy Award for the best point guard in college basketball in 2018, and since the NCAA began honouring the Julius Erving Award for the best small forward in college basketball in 2014, three of the seven winners have come out of Villanova in Hart (2017), Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (2018) and Detroit Pistons second-year forward Saddiq Bey (2020).
Wright preaches that if you play for each other, the individual success will come along with the team's success and that has been beneficial in not only getting players to the NBA but also preparing them to star in their role and make an impact immediately.
He has elevated 16 players to the NBA, including a streak of eight consecutive years with a Villanova product selected in the NBA Draft.
The group is headlined by the greatest Toronto Raptor of all time and a potential future Hall of Famer in Kyle Lowry, but also includes players that spent a decade in the league like Foye and Dante Cunningham.
The recent production of NBA talent has been consistent, starting with Arcidiacono and Hart in 2016 and 2017, respectively, before sending five players of the 2018 National Championship team to the league in Brunson, Bridges, Milwaukee Bucks guard Donte DiVincenzo, Utah Jazz forward Eric Paschall and free-agent center Omari Spellman. That run has continued in the past two drafts, with Bey appearing to be a diamond in the rough for the Pistons and rookie Robinson-Earl going in the second round this year to the Thunder.
The majority of the aforementioned players have already made a name for themselves at the NBA level, too.
Arcidiacono has become a mainstay in the Bulls' backcourt, playing all four years of his career in Chicago so far. Hart has had four strong seasons and has established himself as a top-tier glue guy, defending and rebounding at a high level. Brunson has been a more-than-solid backup point guard behind Luka Doncic and Paschall was named First Team All-Rookie in 2020 despite being a second-round pick.
This past season, Bey was named First Team All-Rookie while also becoming the first rookie to earn Conference Player of the Week honours since 2013. Bridges has become one of the best young wings in the league, playing a vital role as a starter in helping the Suns reach the 2021 NBA Finals, while DiVincenzo started in all 69 games he appeared in for the 2021 NBA champion Bucks before an injury cut his playoff run short.
It's no coincidence that regardless of the situation they're placed in or the franchise they're drafted to, Wright's guys find a way to produce in the NBA, with his fingerprints all over the league.
And the culture he has built at Villanova goes beyond on-court production, with his mantra "Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat," ringing true every year, where former players make a stop to visit their school during road trips to Philadelphia, or in the offseason when they return back to campus to work out with and mentor the school's current players.
Great to have our @NovaMBB alumni back today for #SummerJam21 !- Jay Wright (@VUCoachJWright) August 31, 2021
One of our favorite traditions ! pic.twitter.com/dGpKzBb9QG
It's that type of family culture and instilled work ethic that has helped Wright develop all of his recent NBA talent, making him one of the best coaches in the nation at getting players to the next level and learning how to succeed, at that.
His expertise in player development has been recognized in a number of ways, including his involvement with USA Basketball's Senior Team since 2010, most recently helping Team USA win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics as an assistant coach under the great Gregg Popovich.
His achievements and impact on the game will be etched in history forever in a few days when Jay Wright is enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as one of the greatest college coaches of all time.
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