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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Villanova coach Jay Wright ready to return to Allen Fieldhouse, but only for this one game

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final against Texas Tech, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gestures from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament regional final against Texas Tech, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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To the starry-eyed Kansas basketball fan, Jay Wright’s walk into Allen Fieldhouse for Saturday’s 11 a.m. clash with top-ranked Kansas might inspire visions of the Villanova coach someday taking a similar stroll out of the home team’s tunnel onto James Naismith Court.

That scenario, of course, would only be possible if or when current KU coach Bill Self ever decided to leave the place he’s spent the past 16 seasons.

With Self, 55, talking often during recent years about not envisioning himself coaching deep into his 60s, KU fans trying to brace for that day furiously have cobbled together lists of the top candidates who might someday replace Self.

To no one’s surprise, Wright’s name has been at the top of many of those lists. But putting it there might be a waste of time.

“I’m home at Villanova, and you don’t mess with happy,” the 56-year-old Wright told the Journal-World in a Thursday morning phone interview previewing Saturday’s matchup. “I love it here. So, no, I would not consider leaving Villanova.”

Having said that, Wright acknowledged that coaching at Kansas would be a dream job for just about any coach in the country.

“It’s, obviously, one of the blue blood programs (and), every coach in the country would love to coach there,” Wright continued. “As I would. The only problem is, I’d have to leave here to do it, and I just don’t want to leave here.”

Leaving the comfy confines of the City of Brotherly Love for a regular-season showdown with the Jayhawks (8-0) is a more manageable task, even if Wright knows he and his team will be walking into one of the toughest environments in all of sports.

This, Wright knows from experience, having coached a game inside KU’s famed Fieldhouse back in 2004.

The Jayhawks, then in Self’s first season in Lawrence, won that day in early January, 86-79. And Wright, to this day, still remembers some of the specifics of the showdown.

What still stands out above all else, however, nearly 15 years later, is what took place off the court, both during and after the game.

“It was an incredible experience,” Wright told the Journal-World. “One of the things I came out of there with was how passionate the fans were, how fiery they were and loud during the game. And I’ll never forget walking out of the locker room and their fans still being in the arena, shaking our hands, saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a great team, good luck this season,’ after they beat us pretty bad.

“It was sincere, it was respectful and the knowledge and the respect they have for the game is always something I share with anybody whenever they ask me about playing at Allen Fieldhouse.”

So what about the venue itself? Wright calls Allen Fieldhouse Philly’s famed Palestra “on steroids.” And after playing at The Palestra on Tuesday night — Penn knocked off No 17 Villanova, 78-75 — and coming to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, Wright’s Wildcats (8-3) will follow up back-to-back games in historic college venues with a game against UConn at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Dec. 22.

Wright marveled at that wild stretch in the 2018-19 schedule, but emphasized that there was no way he or his team would overlook the game against Kansas or the opportunity to soak up some of KU’s rich basketball history.

“Bigger, louder, but a very similar environment, and in Philly, we love that,” said Wright, comparing KU’s home venue to The Palestra. “It’s a bigger version and it definitely makes you just feel the history of the game. Being on that campus and (knowing) the history of Phog Allen and Dr. (James) Naismith is something I’ll make sure our guys learn about, respect and cherish.”

As for the matchup itself, Wright said he and his coaching staff always have used matchups with Kansas as a measuring stick to gauge where the Wildcats stand both offensively and defensively.

“If you’re not tough and physical against them, you’re going to get beat down,” Wright said. “Not only are they one of the best defensive teams in the country, but Bill also makes the best adjustments during the games. So we watch what they do and try to use it during our season. Playing Kansas really tests your mental and physical toughness.”

Comments

Mike Auer 8 months, 1 week ago

The first paragraph of your article sucks.

Dave Roberts 8 months, 1 week ago

An excellent article, Matt, as always. Great to hear the perspective of Jay on the Fieldhouse, KU's history and a talented opponents view of what it's like to play against a Bill Self coached team. By the way, I love the first paragraph!

Joe Black 8 months, 1 week ago

Why would we want Jay Wright when Bill retires in 8 years. Wright would be 64 at that point. I believe going with a younger guy with KU ties would be a better fit.

Marius Rowlanski 8 months, 1 week ago

I'm not sure KU fans could handle three straight NIT appearances that went nowhere or even worse, a losing record in the 2011/12 season.

It took a while but Jay Wright has Villanova playing great basketball the last five seasons which included two NCAA titles.

I'm not sure Kansas fans are as patient.

Bryce Landon 8 months, 1 week ago

Two NCAA titles that could have been ours, I might add.

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

2016 could have been our year but 2018 was not. Villanova was clearly the best team.

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

I would gladly take several years of mediocrity in exchange for two national titles. However, if the next KU coach on the heels of Bill Self goes three seasons without a tournament appearance, he won't get a fourth season.

Bill French 8 months, 1 week ago

LOVE your stories Matt. Especially the first paragraphs

Bryce Landon 8 months, 1 week ago

I liked Villanova a lot better when their only claim to fame was being a cute little Cinderella story from the 1985 NCAA Tournament. Now, after losing three straight games to the Wildcats and watching them win national titles that could have been ours, I hate their guts. I'd love to see Kansas pound them on Saturday, but given how we've been playing so far this season, I'd be just as happy if we could beat them, period.

Len Shaffer 8 months, 1 week ago

Jay Wright seems to be one of the truly good guys in college basketball, and if we had to lose in two of the last three years to the same team, at least we can take some comfort in knowing that we lost to someone with class.

Titus Canby 8 months, 1 week ago

Our at least someone who has been trained well to deliver the right sound bites.

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

Gotta admit, he looks great in that suit.

Tony Bandle 8 months, 1 week ago

Bill's projected tenure is essentially 5 to 10 years. Obviously no one on the current staff would qualify as an "heir apparent" so the future alternates are:

1] Bring in someone on staff in the not too distant future to mentor under Bill and take over when the time comes.

2] Hire a current successful head coach who also was a Jayhawk player. [I am not sure Danny, Jerod or Mark qualify as of yet.]

3] Hire a seasoned head coach with the most winning portfolio possible.

4] Chain Bill to the bench until he is 80 or so!!

Titus Canby 8 months, 1 week ago

Manning and Turgeon are close to the same age as Self. It's gotta be someone closer to the age of Haase or Boschee, or younger. Self was about 40 when he came here. So who's a successful 30-35 year old coach now?

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

Unless he hates Philly I can't imagine him leaving. When it's all said and done he will be to Villanova basketball what Calhoun is to UConn bball. They'll name the court after him and erect a statue of him in front of their arena.

Jay Scott 8 months, 1 week ago

1) Don't count on Coach Self staying 5-10 more years.

2) The Mayor is unemployed.

Bryce Landon 8 months, 1 week ago

Hell no! I do NOT want an Iowa State alumnus on our sidelines!

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

Iowa State missed the tournament last year and might do the same in 2019. I think the Cyclones will take him back.

Titus Canby 8 months, 1 week ago

Perry Ellis would be a great coach, but he's way too old.

Jay Scott 8 months, 1 week ago

Joe Ross insists that Perry Ellis is a clone of Harrison Barnes....no doubt he'll soon sign an NBA max deal like Barnes....

Dane Pratt 8 months, 1 week ago

You certainly know how to hold a grudge.

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