(Villanova Coach Jay Wright and CHD’s Dan Gardella talk at Big East Media Day)
By Dan Gardella
New York – For the first time in six years, Villanova was not picked to win the conference in the Big East Preseason Coach’s Poll. The Wildcats were instead picked to finish second among all the coaches in the conference, finishing just a single point behind Seton Hall, who earned the top spot in the ranking for the first time since 1992. The one thing that differs from Jay Wright’s past teams is experience.
With the loss of fifth-year seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, upperclassmen such as Colin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels will face the role of leaders in just their junior campaigns while other teams in the conference bring back senior leaders who thrived just a season ago.
“It scares the hell out of me,” said Wright . “It really does. We have benefited from that. Last year in the end, it came down to the fact that we had two fifth-year seniors leading our team. That’s how we won it in the end.”
The last time Wright did not have a senior on the roster, the year was 2011. A team led by Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, and Mouphtaou Yarou went 13-19 and only won five games in the Big East.
Wright added that although there are no seniors on this season’s roster, Gillespie, Cosby-Roundtree, and Samuels have already done a great job being leaders on and off the court to the young talent. The next step that Wright hopes the trio will take will be seeing how they perform on a night-in and night-out basis as the go-to players in the program.
“We all talk about being leaders off the court,” said Wright. “Now they are going to get on the court and they are the guys the other teams know, they are going to try stop, and know all their tendencies. You have to still lead the team when things are going well and when they are not.”
Outside of the returning players, Villanova brings in one of the better recruiting classes in the country, highlighted by five-star recruits Jeramiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine. However, Antoine has not touched a basketball since his last game in high school, according to Wright.
“He did not get diagnosed with a torn labrum until he got to Villanova. He had a bad shoulder, but he did not know what it was all spring,” said Wright. “Then he got to Villanova and didn’t have the surgery until June. We might not get him to practice until the end of November.”
As for the other newcomers, Wright said that they have done a good job of picking things up quickly. He also added that while it can be tough for newcomers to pick up “The Villanova Way” early on, but the process will have to be sped up prior to the beginning of the season.