This week, more of the conversation focused on the basketball team itself, but of course, Covid-19 is still at the front of everyone’s minds; yes, that includes the mind of Coach Jay Wright.
Wright continues to hold his breath every time a Covid test comes back; the team gets tested three times per week, so it’s fair to say that’s a good amount of time holding breath. Like college sports teams across the Big East and across the country, Villanova’s men’s basketball team has been (and is continuing to be) greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. “If our inexperienced team last year was going through this, I’d be really, really concerned,” Wright noted, but having said that, he also said that he’s still concerned, as “...we’re not where we would be at this time of year in a normal sense,” having “no summer” and only about 15 practices to this point. “There’s going to be variables this season that we all have to deal with.”
Coach Wright is interested to see how the ‘Cats play in the team’s season-opener game against Boston College on Wednesday, November 25, noting that the team has not even been able to have a true scrimmage to this point because they cannot bring in refs for the scrimmages. The preparation for the Boston College game, which is part of the Empire Classic, a four-team tournament that also includes #18 Arizona State and #3 Baylor, will be different due to the pandemic as well, as the team will be leaving Monday for the Wednesday game, whereas they would normally leave on Tuesday night.
The schedule for the entirety of the season remains fluid, but the hope remains that the team can “get in as close to 27 [games] as possible.” Wright mentioned that Villanova has been communicating with other schools so that they have backups, “knowing that something is going to happen.”
Moving past Covid-19 and into a discussion of the team itself, Wright talked about the upside of point guard Collin Gillespie, along with rotation and injury updates. Upon being asked where Gillespie can be even better this season, Wright focused on “creativity offensively: being more crafty and finding more ways to score...kind of like Jalen Brunson was.” With regards to the rotation, four of the five spots are settled (Gillespie, Moore, Samuels Jr., and Robinson-Earl). Regarding the fifth spot, Wright said that “we go back and forth every day.” He also brought up the possibility of potentially bringing in who they deem as the best scorer of the group off the bench in a 6th man role. In terms of injuries, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be out to begin the season as he continues to experience issues with his shins, and Bryan Antoine will not dress for the Empire Classic, as he has not been able to practice yet.
Of course, Wright had to discuss former player Saddiq Bey, with him being drafted to the Detroit Pistons at pick #19 the previous night. “I think Saddiq is a really unique combination of extremely high character, extremely high intelligence...great basketball IQ, very mature on and off the court…” and that as good as he is now, “he can really get a lot better.” If he does “get a lot better,” Detroit might have a draft-day steal on their hands. Bey is now the 9th active Villanova player in the NBA, none of whom are “one-and-done’s” (players that only play their freshman year of NCAA basketball, and then enter the NBA draft). However, Wright said that he “doesn’t want to give up on one-and-done’s,” and that “we would like to have a one-and-done if he fits our program and our community. With that being said, though, Wright believes that “guys choose to come here to develop,” bringing up recent examples, such as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who “would’ve loved to have been one-and-done...but saw his development, and thought that one more year will help.”
It will be interesting to see how the start of this season goes: who steps up into larger roles, how does each player look, does the team truly look like a national championship contender? Coach Wright and Villanova fans will begin to get answers to some of these questions next week, when the season begins.