Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Debunking the myth that Jay Wright is only good at recruiting

Somewhere along the line, Jay Wright developed a reputation as a coach whose success is nearly entirely derived from his ability to recruit. People said things about how Jay hasn't won at Villanova without multiple McDonald's All-Americans. People who subscribe to that line of thought are pretty ignorant of history, because the only recent McDonald's All-American who went on to be a star at Villanova was Scottie Reynolds, and he wound up at Villanova pretty much by accident (insert joke about how Scottie would rather be mentioned on an Oklahoma blog).

Almost exactly a year ago, I touched on this a little bit, because there was a young Villanova team coming off of a horrible season that had just rattled off seven consecutive wins. Right after I wrote that piece, the Villanova team in question went on to lose its next three games in pretty horrific fashion, but then they went on to beat the eventual national champions and another top five team in a five day period right after that skid ended. In the span of a week, Villanova was back where they belonged, and the trolls who were calling for Jay's job retreated back under their bridges. The rise of the Baby Cats last season, combined with the upsets of Iowa and Kansas earlier this season inevitably paved the way for a million gushing articles about how Jay Wright got his groove back. In reality, it never left, it was just that there were a few "can't-miss" recruits that were major miscalculations on the part of the recruiting services. In the dark years between 2010 and 2013, Villanova teams tended were competent enough offensively, they played hard, and were good at things like shooting free throws, but they didn't play good team defense, which had been a hallmark of Jay Wright's Villanova teams.

What happened was that new players came in and others continued to develop. There are three players on this roster that are prime examples of how Jay Wright is able to mold his charges into well rounded basketball players, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Ryan Arcidiacono. Perhaps the best example is Darrun Hilliard, one of the least-heralded recruits to start for Villanova, but he's averaging almost 14 points a game, and could very well finish his junior season with more than 1,000 points in his career, which does not happen all that often in only three years for a team coached by Jay Wright, given the way that he tends to ease freshmen into action. JayVaughn Pinkston was a highly sought after recruit who was forced into redshirting his true freshman year because of a minor case of pugilism. Now JVP was pretty damn good his redshirt-freshman season especially when his time away from the team is taken into consideration, but there were some glaring flaws in his game, particularly his mediocre free throw shooting, tendency to turn the ball over frequently, and an almost total lack of defensive awareness. In the two offseasons at Villanova, he has completely changed both his physique and his game, and because of that he has become a very good free throw shooter, one of the most dominating offensive forces in the country, and has greatly improved his defensive game in the process. Finally, there is Ryan Arcidiacono, who was a turnover machine when he was needed to handle the ball last season, played poor defense, couldn't make shots on the rare occasion that he shot from two point range, and had almost no secondary skills. Though early season returns were overshadowed by the fact that he was shooting the ball terribly from outside, his two point shooting has been markedly better than it was last season, he has getting more rebounds, is playing adequate defense, and has almost cut his turnovers in half. If he had been converting threes at even his career average rate, the discussion about Arcidiacono for the first half of this season would have been how he is developing into a more rounded player.

In case you need any more convincing, I'll just point out that Dante Cunningham is currently in his fifth season in the NBA. If the Dante Cunningham example doesn't do anything for you, then you probably root for St. Joseph's (PA) or Temple fan, and you're just bitter that you couldn't get into Villanova.

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