Jay Wright is a nice guy. Anyone I know who has had even the most miniscule of an encounter with Coach Wright will agree with me. He’s personable, friendly, and he’s a great interview. As an aspiring journalist, he’s excellent because he doesn’t give you ‘stock’ answers, and instead says what he’s thinking. I remember after last year’s loss to GMU, he said post-game that he was glad he wasn’t an NBA coach because he would have been fired for the disappointing end to their season. Sobering stuff, but likely accurate.
Which is why it pains me to write this article. As a Villanova fan, I want nothing more than for Villanova to win a National Championship, preferably in my last season as an undergrad. It certainly doesn’t seem likely, but then again no one picked Butler to make a return trip to the Championship game either. Sports fans want their teams to win, plain and simple. When wins under questionable circumstances arise, we are quick to dispel them, while hammering opposing teams who commit the same wrongdoings. This attribution bias perfectly applies to steroids in baseball, and I am a perfect example. In my mind, the 2004 Red Sox title will never be tainted by Manny Ramirez’s steroid scandals. I know he used them as a member of other clubs, but I hate to think that it affected the best sports memory of my life. (I’m not discussing David Ortiz, partially due to the fact that the MLBPA defended Ortiz from any allegations, the first and only time that has happened in baseball.) But I will always be one of the first to note that Yankee players A-Rod, Clemens, and Pettitte all used steroids and cheated their way to championships. Attribution bias: We glaze over our own faults while singling the same ones out in others.
Which brings us to Jay Wright and Villanova basketball. Wright is the face of the program, and for good reason. Aside from the 1985 Championship season, which in all honesty was an isolated success, Jay Wright’s tenure as head coach has been the most successful stretch in the program’s history. The team has been to the NCAA Tournament for the last seven seasons, reaching the Final Four in 2009 and Elite Eight in 2006. He has graduated multiple current NBA players, and his recruiting classes are consistently one of the best in the country.
But at what cost?
Wright has consistently recruited the best talent in the country to play at the Main Line, but many Villanova players have struggled to operate within the parameters of the law both during and after their career. Recently-graduated guard Corey Stokes got cited for public urination as a player, and recently was charged with two counts of aggravated assault after a bar fight. Last fall, JayVaughn Pinkston punched out a frat boy and got suspended for a semester. Reggie Redding got caught with pot. Dante Cunningham was arrested on drug and weapons charges. Jason Colenda left the team to ‘focus on his degree’. The debacle that was Taylor King. The phone-card scandal of his early tenure with the team. The list seemingly goes on and on.
I’m not saying that Wright directly endorses the illicit behavior by members of the team, but it appears he hasn’t gone out of his way to squash it. I like Jay a lot, and his impact on Villanova’s campus is undoubtedly a positive. He makes his players interact with the student body and surrounding community, and that is not a given for a Division 1 program. And I like winning a lot too, and the players that Jay has brought in have helped boost not only Villanova’s athletic profile, but also its national profile. But Jay’s decision to bring in these players is an implicit approval of how they act while they’re here. Perhaps it is time that Wright starts seeking out more Scottie Reynolds and less Corey Fishers, and I’m not talking about merely athletic success.
The recruiting trail is littered with stories of players with bad attitudes and questionable character that have an exceptional ability to put a ball in a hoop. But are they necessarily the best to be representing an Augustinian University? Much was made over Reynolds’ personal desire to attend mass before games on Sunday, but should it really have been a big story? I’m not saying that all ‘Nova players have to be saints, but it would be nice if they didn’t get arrested more often than Lindsay Lohan. The worst-kept secret on campus is how much time basketball players spend with the make out tree.
Take John Calipari. Players with red flag after red flag flock to him because he wins, and gives his players leashes that are miles long. His teams reach Final Fours, but what does Calipari leave behind? Vacated banners. Recent Kentucky commit Michael Gilchrist was heavily recruited by both Wright and Calipari before finally ending up with Kentucky. Will Gilchrist be a problem at UK? Who knows? But I find it hard to trust any recruit that will play for a coach accused of cheating twice. Villanova fans find Calipari deplorable, and his actions are far worse than anything that’s happened here, but what reaction would we have if a scandal rocked The Pavilion?
Look, Jay is a character guy, I don’t doubt that. And I would be shocked to see major violations coming out of Villanova anytime soon, a la Calipari’s Memphis and Tressel’s Ohio State. But at some point, maybe it’s time for the basketball program to start recruiting character guys to Villanova. I’m honestly sick of hearing about present and former players getting involved in legal trouble. There’s no need for it. It’s time for Jay to either put an end to the on-campus nonsense, or bring in guys who will.