In a summer filled with transition for Villanova men’s basketball, head coach Jay Wright was tasked with making the ultimate transition: working on the coaching staff for USA Basketball during the FIBA World Championship. Wright has had plenty of experience throughout his illustrious coaching career with international basketball, but ‘Nova’s head man learned a lot from the 45 days that he was away from the Main Line.
“One of the things I learned being away is I really wasn’t missed that much,” Wright joked, when asked about his time away from the program. “Our assistants did a really good job.”
Team USA started out hot in the tournament, going 5-0 in group play before advancing to the knockout stage. Due to a plethora of injuries, coupled with the competition faced, the Team USA suffered back to back losses against France and Serbia. Following a 13-point victory in a consolation game against Poland, USA finished seventh in the tournament when it was all said and done. Wright credited the tough competition that they faced all throughout the summer for their finish.
“(France and Serbia) have a lot of NBA guys, too,” Wright said. “It’s not just that they play together. They’re talented guys.”
Even with Team USA finishing below expectations of contending for a medal, Wright was able to take a lot away on the court to bring back to Villanova. With men’s basketball having such a young roster this year, it will be paramount for Wright to draw back on the experiences from China during the season.
“It’s good, intelligent and sound basketball,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of things that I think all of us on the staff are taking back with us. I think we all had great respect for international basketball going into it, but we definitely took a lot from it, too.”
Even though Wright is one of the premier coaches in the college basketball landscape, he was able to work with some of the best minds in basketball at the professional level. Three time NBA champion head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, as well as current Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, also served as assistants for the squad. Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, who has won five rings as a coach, served as the head coach for Team USA. Popovich, known for his stern demeanor on the floor, was able to give Wright more than a few learning lessons during the international experience.
“I learned a lot about wine,” Wright said jokingly about Popovich. “I learned a lot about leadership. We lost some games, and we played in some tough environments. Just watching him handle every situation was really helpful to me.”
While coach Wright may not have been the most notable name on the squad for the casual basketball fan, he took his role in stride.
Being the defensive coordinator in a sense, while coaches Kerr and Pierce worked mainly with the offense, Wright took a lot of pride in representing the college ranks.
“I was the college guy with the NBA guys,” Wright said. “They were very respectful, but it was very clear I was the college guy. And I enjoyed that role.”
Wright also took some time away from the game during the trip to see one of the seven wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China, which he claimed was the most memorable moment off the court.
“(The Great Wall) was awe inspiring,” coach Wright said. “It was an amazing sight to see.”
Wright will be back on the coaching staff next summer for the 2020 Olympics alongside Kerr, Pierce and Popovich. Wright will look to draw on the experiences on and off the court from the 2019 summer in order to achieve more success in the ensuing international tournament. Until then though, Wright is fully focused on being home with his family and his ‘Cats in order to get prepared for the 2019-20 campaign.
“It’s nice to be home,” Wright said. “Nice to be in Philly. I love to be back with our guys.”