Was great to catch up with my good friend Hubie Brown in the booth before the Grizzlies vs. Nets game.
Prior to my NBA debut with Hubie Brown and the Hawks, I coached under Rollie Massimino at Villanova University from 1975-78. That was a period when Villanova turned it around and it was an exciting time in my career. We had some outstanding recruiting classes, which included the talented guard Rory Sparrow whom I would again coach at the NBA level in both Atlanta and New York. During my third season with the Wildcats we wound up the number one team in the Eastern Eight Conference. That year we made it to the NCAA Elite Eight after squeaking past Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 round with a 61-60 victory, thanks in large part to Sparrow’s contributions on the court. Eventually we lost to the NCAA Tournament runners-up, the Duke Blue Devils, but we had a terrific run.
I have a lot of great memories from that chapter in my basketball career. And because of my rich experience and my relationships with coaches Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright, I’ve maintained ties to the program ever since. I remember the night Villanova upset heavily favored Georgetown to win the National Championship in 1985. I was a young head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. We were playing the Detroit Pistons at Joe Louis Arena that night. I found a cab driver before the game and paid him on the condition that he be waiting for me outside the arena when our game ended. As soon as we got finished with the press conference I raced back to the hotel to watch the game. The Wildcats were seeded eighth in their bracket and wound up defeating the No. 1 seeded Hoyas 66-64. What a night for Rollie – it was magical.
Coach Wright, who is in his ninth year as head coach, has developed the Wildcats into a top 25 fixture. Prior to joining Villanova, he was a successful head coach at Hofstra University and an assistant to Rollie at both Villanova and UNLV. While Villanova has had success in the past, most notably in 1985 when they captured the NCAA title, the basketball program is enjoying arguably its most prolonged period of success in its 81-year history. Last year, Villanova made its first Final Four appearance since the 1985 season when they lost to eventual National Champion North Carolina.
Coach Wright is a homegrown guy and follows in the footsteps of many other successful Big 5 coaches whose roots started in the Philadelphia area. He has shown a tremendous flair for recruiting, no doubt a result of his natural charisma and energy. Villanova now has a national recruiting pool from which to choose and looks poised to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament for years to come.
Wright’s teams are characterized by strong, tough guard play and an overall feistiness that allows them to compete effectively with bigger teams. The current team is no exception and is led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who hopes to bring his tremendous career at Villanova to an end with another deep tourney push. Villanova is also well-represented in the NBA right now with recent grads Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Dante Cunningham all contributing to their respective teams.
Villanova (2) will face St. Mary’s (10) in the second round of the 72nd Annual NCAA Championships this afternoon at 1:05 PM ET.