Patience required at Villanova

July, 24, 2012
There's no sugarcoating the rebuilding job Jay Wright has ahead of him at Villanova.

"It's definitely a challenging time for us," said Wright, whose Wildcats finished with a stunningly pedestrian 13-19 overall record, 5-13 in the Big East.

"We've got a good core, we're confident in our system," Wright said. "We've got to build it again and prove ourselves again like we did when we came in. There's no shame in proving yourself. We've got to start over. We're not afraid of that. We've got the confidence in our system and our guys. That's where we are and what we're going to do."

The Wildcats have lost players to the NBA before, but Wright took a more unusual hit this offseason when his starting guards and top two scorers -- juniors Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek -- declared for the NBA draft. Neither were selected.

"A lot of these kids are told they're going to be drafted," Wright said. "Both of them expected to be drafted. It's a real challenge in our business now -- to try and educate these kids the best we can."

Villanova, which has flourished under Wright on the perimeter, will have one of the more inexperienced backcourts in the Big East.

"Inexperienced guards are usually difficult challenges," Wright said.

The Wildcats will lean on James Bell, Ty Johnson, freshman Ryan Arcidiacono and Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault, who is eligible immediately. The returnees aren't household names but the latter two come in with a bit more buzz.

"That's a core group right there," Wright said. "It gives us a really good backcourt."

The Wildcats will lean heavily on forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston. If Bell and Johnson play up to their potential and Arcidiacono is a star, then the Wildcats at least have a core to survive.

Wright is cautiously optimistic.

"We can be a contender for an NCAA tournament spot," said Wright. "If I'm being optimistic than [Bell and Arcidiacono] will play like experienced players. And if they do then we have a chance to be good."

Wright has won 12 NCAA tournament games at Villanova. He has coached the Wildcats to a Final Four. The Wildcats are arguably the most popular program in basketball-crazed Philadelphia, and are the only program that plays in an NBA arena for a number of games every season.

The Big East is going through a transitional period with the 2013 additions of Memphis, Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Nova's Big Five rival Temple. But Villanova has always been a consistent winner and the Big East needs the Wildcats to be an anchor with Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette, Georgetown and St. John's. The name recognition is too special for it to be otherwise.

"We're concentrating on Villanova … and everything else will take care of itself," Wright said of the Big East's upheaval. "Since it's a funny time right now, it's very important for us to concentrate on Villanova basketball and try to be the best we can be and let everything else play out. We've got good young guys. I like the young guys we have. There are guys we can build with like when we got Randy Foye and Allan Ray."

If that's the case then the Wildcats will be back. But there needs to be patience. This will likely be another transition year, in large part because the Wildcats lost two players early to the NBA draft who were poorly advised. Ultimately, it is their loss as much it is Villanova's. The difference is that it will affect the Wildcats for one season, but may hurt Wayns and Cheek for much longer.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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