It’s part of the culture of Villanova’s basketball program, the responsibilities put on the members of the senior class to guide their younger teammates on and off the court.
In the case of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, however, the workload seemed to be a heavier one than in prior years.
The two seniors had to do everything — lead the Wildcats on the court, play the most minutes and score the most points, as well as direct three sophomores, four freshmen and a graduate transfer in his only year in “how to prepare for practice, how to prepare for games, how to sleep at night, how to eat the right way,” coach Jay Wright said.
“You’re expected to have the most pride, the most understanding in the program, and your senior year is not about you,” Wright, sitting alongside Booth and Paschall, said Saturday night after his team edged Seton Hall, 74-72, for their third straight Big East Tournament championship. “It’s about you giving back and teaching the younger guys because the guys before you did it.
“Josh Hart was here tonight on the court. He took great pride in these guys because they were the young guys he was teaching when he was a senior. They all know that, and they pass it down. It was a little easier for Josh. These guys were experienced. The young guys these two had had no experience, so what they did was off the charts. That’s what really made it special this year.”
For the Wildcats’ three sophomores – starters Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels and sixth man Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree – it was an impressive learning experience. Each had a different aspect of the seniors’ leadership qualities that they admired.
“Their mental toughness,” Cosby-Roundtree said at Monday’s media session. “They’re so tough. They’re getting pushed every day by the coaches and they have a lot on their backs, a lot to carry for our team. So there’s a lot of things on them and I admire that. I’m watching that a lot and I’m trying to take some of it for myself, maybe if I have to use it or have to be that player next year. It’s definitely something I’m focusing on.”
Gillespie said he respected the pair’s persistence and sense of sacrifice.
“It’s their senior year, it’s their last time here,” he said. “So their ability to handle that and know that there’s going to be wins, losses, ups, downs, whatever it was, they just stuck through it and kept teaching those guys, helping them with whatever they needed .That was incredible to me that they weren’t getting frustrated with us and just keeping their composure.”
Samuels has been a late bloomer this season for the Wildcats. After missing 10 games as a freshman with a broken bone in his hand and averaging just 1.1 points in 25 games, Samuels has slowly gained in confidence, scoring a career-high 29 points on Feb. 27 against Marquette, and contributing 12.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in the Big East Tournament.
He said he admired the ability of Booth and Paschall “to be patient with us.”
“It’s not easy in such a role they have,” he said. “They’ve been with guys in previous years helping them in the two or three years prior to us getting them. Them being patient just teaching us along the way while showing us how to do it goes a long way.”
Booth and Paschall will continue their work this week knowing that each game from now on could be their last in a Villanova uniform. Wright appreciates everything they have done.
“It’s just been an incredible experience of leadership by them,” he said.