The 14 members of the Villanova Wildcats climbed up a ladder in Louisville Saturday night to cut down the nylon nets and celebrate becoming one of basketball’s all-time elite teams. They had upset No. 1 overall seed Kansas and were Final Four bound for the first time since 2009.
But unlike a professional team, the development and eligibilityof college athletes creates a much larger network of contributors to a Final Four squad.
Just ask big man Daniel Ochefu, who was quick to credit his senior predecessors as role models for success.
“For my fellow seniors, Pat [Farrell], Kevin [Rafferty], Henry [Lowe], Arch[Ryan Arcidiacono], it just means the world to us to be that class that brought Villanova back to the Final Four,” Ochefu said.”Then for all the seniors we had, [Mouphtaou Yarou], Tony [Chennault], Taj Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, they made me, Arch, all the seniors, they made us the guys we are today.”
The Wildcats have quickly shaken off their label of an “early exiter,” as the squad failed to make it to the second weekend during the tenureof Nova’s current senior class.
“Definitely ended a lot earlier than we wanted to,” Arch said,”but I think for us to go through the struggles and early exits really helped us persevere in this game and in this tournament. It wasn’t about trying to get past the second weekend. It was trying to be the best we can be at the end of the year.”
It’s particularly special for Arcidiacono, who grew up in Neshaminy High School and grew up watching many a Villanova team fall short.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” he said,”growing up, watching Villanova, I never thought I could be part of it. But we’re not done yet and we’ll get back to work on Monday and focus on Oklahoma.”
And it’s a sense of pride for Cats head coach Jay Wright, who has finally broken through after years of bitter endings.
“You just believe in your guys so much and you’re telling them how great they can be,” the coach said.”And you know it. You see it in them, but they’re 18 to 22 years old. Sometimes they don’t realize it and you get them maybe 75 percent of the way there and they leave you.
“You feel good for them, they got partly there, but you feel like you failed them a little bit. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to see these guys get to that point where everyone else sees that they’re as good as we see they can be.”
The Wildcats will look to win the first of the two games necessary to be crowned National Champions when they travel to Houston next Saturday to face the Sooners.