Witnessing the love showered upon Villanova’s 1985 National championship team last week, perhaps it ran through the minds of Jay Wright’s current Wildcats ‘Why not us?’
Villanova is c oming off of a 29-5 season during which they lost to eventual National Champions UConn, the fifth time since 2005 the Wildcatsfell to a team that would go on to win it all (North Carolina twice, Florida, Kansas).
But that’s not the overriding message Wright wants to convey to the pre-season No. 12 team in the country, which returns all but two key players from a team that went far beyond expectationsand won the Big East regular season title.
“I wanted them to understand ‘It’s not just about you,'” said Wright, who admits he had no idea how special that team was until it knocked off first Kansas, then Iowa to win the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas last November. “‘We’ve had great players here before you and we’ll have great players after you. So value this time and carry on this tradition.”
That and other messages are getting through to guards Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard, forward JayVaughn Pinkston & Co., who know expectations are lofty. They counter by saying as long as they play “Villanova basketball” — play hard, smart, together and with pride — and get better each day, they’ll be just fine.
“Humble and hungry” is their mantra.
“He doesn’t want success to go to our head,” said Pinkston, who averaged 14.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. “Smell the perfume, but don’t taste it. We’re here to try to make our own legacy.”
Wright smiles, knowing they’re buying in.
“For a 20 year old it’s a difficult thing,” said Wright, starting his 14thseason at Villanova, where he’s gone 286-149. “It’s a challenge because last year was such a successful year. On the inside we’re fine with that. But we understand that’s not how we’re measured and don’t have any problem with that.”
He’ll look for Hilliard (14.3), Pinkston and Arcidiacono (9.9 with 3.5 assists) to assume some of the scoring and leadership void left by James Bell (14.4), while big man Daniel Ochefu and sophomores Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins should continue to blossom.
Realizing expectations are high, though, doesn’t faze these ‘Cats, who are determined to leave their own mark.
“We know we have a lot of expectations,’’ said Hilliard, who’ll serve as one of the captains. “Last year we were the guys coming after those top tier teams. Now we’re one of those top tier teams, but we have to approach it the same way.”
For a team with little margin for error it won’t come easy.
“It’ll be a tough act to follow,”Arcidiacono said. “We’ve lost some key guys b ut you never know. The sky’s the limit.”
It was 30 years ago when Rollie Massimino’s upstart Wildcats shocked the college hoops world, led by Eddie Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain, Harold Jensen and Harold Pressley. Now kids who weren’t even alive then will try to add to that legacy
“We have a chance to be a special team because of our experience,” said Wright.
Now comes the hard part, which was never the case back in 1985: Living up to the hype.