Hungry and excited.
Those are two adjectives Villanova coach Jay Wright used to describe his feeling heading into the 2012-13 season.
With his worst season in 11 years at the helm in the rear-view mirror, Wright is confident the Wildcats will bounce back.
“We struggled through last year, meaning it was difficult for all us to endure, but we also respect the process of what it takes to be good,” Wright told Philahoops on Wednesday. “We know it takes time, we know you have to go through some pains and we’re actually enjoying that process. So that really eliminates the nervousness because we know you have to respect the process.”
A fixture in the NCAA tournament under Wright, making seven straight appearances prior to last season that included a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16s, the Wildcats were left completely out of the postseason in 2011-12 after suffering through a 13-19 campaign that included a 5-13 Big East mark.
The offseason didn’t start much better for Villanova, as juniors Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek – its two leading scorers — left the program to pursue professional careers that preceded freshman big man Markus Kennedy announcing his intentions to transfer. Villanova did get some good news this summer when 6-foot-2 junior guard Tony Chennault was granted a hardship waiver, making him eligible to play this season after transferring from Wake Forest. Chennault averaged 9 points and 2.8 assists for the Deacon Demons last season.
Chennault will join freshmen Daniel Ochefu, a 6-11 center, and Ryan Arcidiacono, a 6-3 guard, as players who Villanova fans hope will help get the program back to its winnings ways.
“These guys that are here are hungry to prove themselves and understand that we need to prove ourselves,” Wright said. “The true concept here is that no matter how many games you win the year before, you always have to prove yourself. And I think that’s what we lost, that understanding that you have to prove yourself every day, every game, every year.”
The coach says the Wildcats need to regain the intangibles that made them so good during most of his reign.
“We’ve got to get back to our core values of being a team that plays for the pride in representing Villanova, a team that is playing with great effort and passion,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re winning a lot, you kind of expect it and you lose those simple characteristics of playing hard and having great passion and appreciating being part of Villanova.”
From Allan Ray, to Kyle Lowry, to Scottie Reynolds, to Corey Fisher, to Randy Foye, to Curtis Sumpter, and on down the line, those characteristics have been stalwarts of successful players under Wright.
“The players make the program and we have been very fortunate,” Wright said. “We have had great players and when I say great players I don’t mean just talent. We have had great players committed to making the program successful.”
Can the Wildcats be successful again? Wright believes they can.
“There is an excitement about the potential and the future and there is a hunger,” he said. “Those two adjectives are very good. Our guys are excited and also very hungry.”
Note: Stay tuned to Philahoops for more fresh content in the coming weeks, including more from our conversation with Jay Wright. We will officially relaunch with some exciting improvements on Aug. 15.