Jay Wright announces his retirement after a decorated 21-year career at Villanova

Jay Wright, former head coach of the Villanova men’s basketball team- Keith Lovett via Wikimedia Commons

To new Wildcats fans, Villanova University’s men’s basketball program’s prestige may seem long-standing due to recent extreme success. In the last eight NCAA March Madness tournaments, Villanova’s men’s basketball team was a one-seed three times and a two-seed three times. Two of those seasons, 2016’s and 2018’s, resulted in National Championship victories.

Despite how well the team has performed recently, Villanova men’s basketball has historically not been nearly as successful as it is now. A graph compiled by The Washington Post depicts their results in the March Madness tournament from 1985 to 2020. Seasons before 1985 were not notable at all, only making the final four in a vacated 1971 season and in 1939.

Villanova’s men’s basketball program has changed drastically for the better in recent years. Many fans and experts alike are curious about the driving forces behind the team’s success.

Look no further than Villanova’s longest tenured head coach for the team, Jay Wright. Coach Wright joined in 2001, during a period when the Wildcats were down on their luck and didn’t make the tournament for five years in a row—a streak unseen by the Nova Nation since 1972. Wright clearly faced a difficult task: devising a way to bring the team to glory from a place of complete failure. He recently announced his retirement on Apr 20, 2022. 

He succeeded, for two main reasons. 

One, he focused heavily on recruitment. Villanova’s men’s basketball team is particularly famous for its point guards. Wright went out and found some of the best guards in the nation to bring aboard the team. In an interview with The Herd in March 2022, Wright said“We look for competitive guys,” and “we look at that complete player at the guard spot that will get involved in every aspect of the game.” 

Wright has taken a personal interest in finding the best players, notably recruiting Collin Gillespie, one of the team’s best players in this year’s season.

Recruiting has a cascading effect. Not only can better players benefit the team in the short-term season, but a better team increases the university’s prestige and popularity. Fifth Former Ben Bodle, an avid Wildcats fan, admires Coach Wright’s work. Bodle attributes the majority of the team’s current success to the fact that “he’s a next-level coaching greatness.” 

“Recruits started to see that, and people started wanting to be coached by Jay Wright. Villanova became more of a place to be,” Bodle said. “It’s gotten to the point where we can consistently recruit really good players.”

Villanova Wildcats guard Collin Gillespie (2) brings up the ball after UCLA scores; Villanova at UCLA Basketball, November 12, 2021, Los Angeles, CA- Via Wikimedia Commons

The other way Wright has increased the team’s success and popularity is through his implementation of positive team culture. As a coach, Wright has grown famous for his blue wristbands that say Attitude and the other tricks he uses to change the way his players think both about basketball and life in general.

“The culture that Jay Wright himself has created is something that’s really notable,” Bodle said.

Wright’s book, titled Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset on and off the Court, details all the ways he has changed Villanova’s program and pieces of his outlook on life. A key quote from the book reads, “An organization’s core values are its pillars. In troubled times, they are a beacon. In successful times, they are a rudder. Core values reflect what matters most to your program or organization.”

This season, Wright’s team broke the record for the highest free-throw percentage in a season with a shocking 83.0%, one that had been held for 38 years. This record in particular is exceptionally difficult to break because it requires consistency and rigor. If there’s one thing Wright will always be known for, it’s consistency and rigor.