Over a week has passed since the Villanova Wildcats stunned the UNC Tarheels in possibly the most exciting NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament finale of all time.
It climaxed when junior forward Kris Jenkins put himself forever in history with a deep three at the buzzer before over 70,000 fans, and millions watching at home. Villanova basketball was crowned as national champion for the first time since 1985. The sharply-dressed man behind the madness, head coach Jay Wright, took his first-ever NCAA national championship.
Coach Wright has won gold with USA basketball, earned four Big East regular season titles, and is even a several-time winner of GQ’s best-dressed in college basketball. With all things considered, his success in March Madness is a definite résumé topper, and could further launch his career.
But Wright’s beginnings were humble—and local.
Wright’s first ever coaching job was an assistant for UR Men’s Basketball back in the ’84-’85 and ‘85-’86 seasons under then–head coach Mike Neer.
Wright graduated from Bucknell University in ’83 and only a year later, at age 23, Wright joined the Yellowjacket family. He was just barely older than the players he coached, but as Steve Trombower, a former team co-captain on the ‘85-’86 roster recalled, Wright was “a friend of the players, but he was well-respected […] he was easy-going, well-liked, and respected.”
Coach Wright climbed the coaching ladder relatively quickly. After two years as an assistant at UR, he took a job as an assistant at Division I Drexel. After hopping around DI programs as an assistant, Wright took his first head coaching job at Hofstra in ’94, where he invigorated the program. In 2001, Wright took over at Villanova, joining the likes of Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun in one of college basketball’s most elite conferences, the Big East.
But unlike so many who reach that level of notoriety, Wright has not let his fame and successes go to his head.
“He didn’t forget where he started,” Trumbower said. “He’s just a genuinely nice person […] he’s invited us [his former UR players] into the locker room and introduced us to all of the players.”
Trumbower didn’t seem surprised by what Coach Wright has accomplished, pointing out that he has all of the characteristics that successful people normally have.
He both gave and earned respect.
“Coach Neer was a seasoned coach, but they had a mutual respect for one another. What you see is what you get; his players like him.”
Certainly, Coach Wright and his Wildcats have earned the respect of the media. ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early” rankings have Villanova ranked second in the nation for next season.
It certainly seems as though the sky’s the limit for the former UR assistant.