Quote by Villanova, it’s all about tradition
“This is Villanova basketball”: that’s a recurring theme every time coach Jay Wright or any other player at roster is interviewed, it is their mantra. What does that mean? It means tradition. Being a Wildcat means inheriting and transmitting not only a way to live the game, but a way to live life. It is a culture made of human bonds and attitude, a will to ferociously compete in every aspect of the game on every single possession. It’s the history that permeates The Pavillion, the chant before every tip-off: “We play for those who came before us”.
City of basketball love
Villanova’s history starts with Philadelphia and the passion the whole city has for the game, from playgrounds to High Schools up to The Palestra, the ‘Cathedral of College Basketball’. This is where the Philadelphia Big 5 is hosted every year, a competition among the best college programs in the city featuring the universities of Villanova, Pennsylvania, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Temple. In 1842 in Radnor Township, a suburb in the north-western area of Philadelphia, a group of Augustinian monks founded Villanova University, one of the oldest private colleges known in the US for being the Alma Mater to many of the wealthiest families in Pennsylvania.
Arizin, Severance and Kraft
February 12th, 1949: Paul Arizin, the best player in VU history, scores 85 points against Philadelphia Naval Air Material Center. Arizin is the first player to attempt a jump shot, and his name is one of the most important in the history of the game. The symbol of Villanova tradition is coachAlexander Severance who sat on their bench for 25 years, from 1936 to 1961. However, their culture and attitude rise to national interest with Jack Kraft, who will coach the team through the 60s and part of the 70s. 1971 is one for the ages: Nova reaches the NCAA final with his “Iron Men”, the nickname given to coach Kraft roster in light of their hard game which got them close to the national title. Close but not close enough: their opponent was the legendary UCLA coached by John Wooden that won 7 consecutive titles going from 1967 to 1973.
April 1st, 1985: this date was one of the single most important moment in Villanova’s culture. Rollie Massimino is the most famous coach in Wildcat’s history and validated their tradition as a team playing hard on defence and never giving up. The 1985 March Madness featured 68 teams for the first time and the Wildcats were the 8th seed. From the first round on, it went on a triumphant march to the final while ousting big programs like Michigan,Maryland and North Carolina. In that championship game the Wildcats faced the favourite Georgetown and their star, Patrick Ewing. Yet, Villanova won 66-64 shooting 78.6% from the field and missing just one shot in the whole second half. The best shooting performance in history of college basketball, the perfect game. And it’s no April’s fool. But destiny leaves its mark again: after the win, the very same day, Alexander Severance passes away.
The tradition still goes on
Flashback to 1971: among the people sitting on the couch and watching the championship game there is a kid called Jay, born in Philadelphia and Wildcats fan, who can’t stop crying after the game. Sixteen years later, sitting on the bench near Massimino there is an assistant coach named Jay, the very same kid who grew up breathing basketball in Philadelphia and married to Heck, an ex Wildcats cheerleader. That’s how important VU is in his life.
April 4th, 2016: Kris Jenkins scores on a three-point shot and the Wildcats win the national championship 31 years after their lone title and the cameras look for their coach. Unperturbed, the only word leaving his lips is “bang” and then, with the same emotionless face, goes to shake coach Roy Williams hand. That kid watching the final game on TV went to the NRG Stadium decades later and won it all. And now, rumors have it that the Phoenix Suns would like to import some of that tradition and attitude to the NBA.
The perfect season
In the ‘one and done’ era coach Wright won the title with a team led by seniors Ryan Arcidiacono andDaniel Ochefu, a roster built recruiting good players to develop in the following 3 to 4 years. Nova was undoubtedly the best team in the tournament, it was first inKenpom ranking for long stretches of the season and reached the first spot in the AP ranking for the first time in college history on February 8th, just before winning the third consecutive Big East regular season title. It was a season with plenty of ups and very few downs, and the worst of those were probably the 23 points loss againstOklahoma on December 7th and the loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. That’s when coach Wright had to remember his players what it means to be a Wildcat: play hard, play smart, play as a team. Villanova proved it throughout the season with a two point-guard system which gave them one of the best defence this season and a 4-out offense. This style allowed Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins to play at their best and assimilated young pieces like Jalen Brunson andPhil Booth. And allowed Nova to shoot 58.2% from the field in the tournament, an unprecedented mark.
Arcidiacono, the Philly guy
Villanova, as we said, is not just a way to live basketball but a way to live life. The embodiment of that tradition is Ryan Arcidiacono, a kid from Philadelphia who’s got Villanova in his blood. His parents, Joe and Patti, studied and met in Radnor Twonship. In the most important moment of the season he trusted his teammate Kris Jenkins to take the shot, the perfect representation of the team-first culture that runs through Villanova basketball. He wanted the shot, he admitted as much after the game, but gave it up. And regardless of the outcome, it was the right decision. Because that’s what it means to be a Wildcat: believe in every teammate without distinction. It is about trust and human bonds. And “once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat”.