The Arcidiacono clan has become ‘Villanova royalty’ and one of Philly basketball’s first families
Chris Arcidiacono is about to follow in his brother Ryan's footsteps with a basketball scholarship to Villanova. The last two generations of the their family have more than a dozen college athletes.
There’s a beat-up basketball hoop in the Arcidiacono family’s driveway.
In their living room, a television is almost always set to ESPN, an assortment of golf clubs leans against the wall. There’s a chipping net in the backyard about 40 yards away from a driving range mat that extends off the patio.
The only thing that overwhelms the walls more than pictures of their children’s athletic achievements are the family portraits and decorative signs with quotes about family, religion, and life.
It’s a home that, for the last 35 years, has molded three Division I basketball players, a national champion, and a team captain.
“All my friends will say, ‘Did you watch Game of Thrones?’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t watch anything but ESPN,' ” said Patti Arcidiacono, a mother of six.
Neatly tucked away on the wall leading up a stairwell is a picture of Joe and Patti’s fourth child, Ryan, celebrating Villanova’s 2016 national championship with coach Jay Wright.
It used to be proudly on display in their Langhorne living room, but it was moved. It had its time. Now, Ryan plays for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, and his younger brother, Chris, is about to begin his career at the school where his parents met, where his brother became a star, and where he grew up dreaming about playing basketball.
The last two generations of Joe and Patti’s extended family have more than a dozen college athletes. Chris signed his letter of intent in April to attend Villanova. He will be the third in his nuclear family to play Division I college basketball, following Ryan and their older sister Nicole, who walked on and became a team captain at Penn State.
Joe played football at Villanova; his brother, Mark, played for Temple. From there it becomes harder to keep track. Even Joe and Patti sometimes take a breath between the names they can list.
Patti sometimes teases Joe that his parents were outdoorsy folks who didn’t care about sports, but now their family name is one of the most recognizable in Philadelphia sports.
“They’re like Villanova royalty,” said Wright, whose wife was a college classmate of Patti and Joe’s. “They’re a part of the Villanova fabric.”
Joe grew up in Philadelphia and played basketball at Father Judge before getting a football scholarship at Villanova. He was an offensive lineman who was named team captain in his senior year.
He met Patti, a nursing student from New York, in 1980. They were married in 1984 on Long Island and had six kids after settling down in Bucks County: Sabrina, 32, Nicole, 30, Michael, 28, Ryan 25, Chris 18, and Courtney 18.
Ryan was a four-star recruit from Neshaminy High in 2011, and the next four years vaulted the Arcidiacono family to royal status.
Wright had a relationship with the family through his wife, and first saw Ryan play when he was starting his freshman season in 2007. He missed his senior season of high school with a back injury but still started every game as a freshman with the Wildcats.
In his senior season, Ryan led Villanova to a national championship. His assist to Kris Jenkins resulted in the biggest shot in school history as time expired. He scored 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting against Oklahoma in the Final Four and scored 21 in the Sweet 16 against Miami.
Joe can still recite the details of the 2016 national championship run: the blocked shots, the timeouts to stop a run, the scores at halftime. He can recall what he said to his wife and what went through his head in the final moments of the title game against North Carolina.
Marcus Paige comes off a screen, Daniel Ochefu falls down, Ryan closes out on Paige, who double pumps and sinks a three-pointer to tie the score with 4.7 seconds to go.
“I just said to myself, ‘Well, that’s UNC, a storied program. They’ve won four or five titles,’ ” Joe said. “We’re Villanova, probably underfunded relative to these other places. We’re a small blue blood.”
Patti turned to Joe and asked: “We can still do this, right?” and Joe replied “We can, we’ll see.”
“A minute later, after the timeout and they swept the floor and all that, he made the pass” Joe says, pointing at Ryan, sitting in the living room watching First Take. “Kris made the shot and the rest is history.”
The late bloomer
Last season, Chris and Joe Arcidiacono were on their way home from a prep school tournament in New England, frustrated and confused. Chris had just scored 32 points for the Perkiomen School against Gould Academy and Northwestern recruit Daniel Buie, but the recognition still wasn’t there.
The 6-foot-3 guard was a late bloomer. He didn’t get the recruitment that Ryan got, partly because of a tardy growth spurt that didn’t come until midway through high school, and partly because of his last name.
“It was kind of a situation where, for me, familiarity was actually a disadvantage for him,” Wright said. “We saw him all the time, and we knew every little thing about him. ... If we were at an event anywhere, we’d always check him out because he was part of the family.”
Wright has known Chris since he was in middle school, Ryan’s skinny kid brother who came to the games. The first time he saw Chris play competitively was at a Catholic Youth Organization championship game; Wright was there for his daughter’s game and stuck around to watch Chris.
After his senior season at Neshaminy, Chris still didn’t have the offers he felt he deserved as his game took a significant jump, including a 51-point performance in a state playoff game against Lower Merion that Aces coach Gregg Downer told Joe was “Mamba-like” (referring to former NBA and Lower Merion great Kobe Bryant).
Because they felt he had another leap to make, Chris and his family decided to enroll him in the Perkiomen School for a postgraduate year. Chris responded to the elevated competition well. Villanova, along with several other Division I schools, took notice. During a tournament in February, Villanova had an assistant coach scouting a handful of players, including Chris.
“Our assistant coaches would say, ‘Hey, he’s getting a lot better, we’d better start looking at him as a possible recruit,' ” Wright said. “We always knew he loved Villanova, but we just wanted to make sure it was going to be a good spot for him.”
Chris scored 24 points, had 12 rebounds, and guarded Clemson four-star recruit Al-Amir Dawes in a 69-68 win.
He didn’t know that there was a buzz in Wright’s office about the progress he’d made as a player. He also didn’t know that Ryan had been dropping hints to Wright, and that Chris might have played his way into the Wildcats’ recruiting picture. So he wasn’t nervous going into the game.
“It was really late in the year and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if they’re here for me,’ ” he said. “I didn’t think about it like I used to, when they were at my games.”
‘My dream, too’
The photos and mementos from Ryan’s national championship run aren’t as prominently featured in the Arcidiaconos’ living room as they used to be. Joe said it was time to move on. Plus, they didn’t want Chris to have to look at those pictures every day.
Between the rival school chants, the ‘You’re not your brother’ taunts in the middle of games, and the challenge of dealing with expectations, Patti and Joe work to make sure Chris has the chance to have his own path.
When Chris decided on Villanova, Patti couldn’t help but be nervous about how he’d handle the outside pressure to be as good as Ryan.
“I was anxious about the whole 'Nova thing,” she said. "Even though I love 'Nova and everything, I was anxious because he’s following in Ryan’s footsteps. I told him, ‘It’s going to be brutal, Chris, when you get there.’
But he said, ‘It was my dream, too, when I was little.’ ”
Chris grew up as Ryan’s biggest fan. He was sometimes the water boy for Ryan’s AAU teams. But at Neshaminy, as Ryan’s profile grew with the national championship run, Chris’s family name brought challenges with it.
Opponents’ gyms — both players and student sections — could be hostile at times. Chris said he fed off the jeers.
“I actually played better when I got harassed and stuff, so I brought it on,” Chris said.
“He would play really well and he would look at the kids taunting him and give them a little jersey tug,” Joe added. “We’re a tough-minded family, you can’t be a high-level athlete and be that fragile in a sense that that’s going to bother you. ...
"He’s not the first brother to follow another brother, whether it’s the same school or not, and those comparisons are always going to be there.”
The reaction to another Arcidiacono’s joining the Wildcats was something Wright and his staff considered when they were deciding whether to offer Chris a basketball scholarship. But after talking to Chris about it, Wright’s concerns went away.
“He’s had a great perspective,” Wright said. “We wanted to make sure he would understand what would be coming and I was very impressed with his approach and perspective."
Villanova basketball’s prominence has changed significantly since Ryan’s freshman year, largely thanks to Ryan’s impact there. He was a leader on the 2016 national championship team, and his impact was still noticeable on the 2018 title team.
Ryan’s Villanova recruiting class was ranked No. 27 in the country by 247Sports. It featured him, fellow four-star recruit Ochefu, and three-star recruit Mislav Brzoja.
Chris’s class? The fifth best in the country with two five-star recruits (Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine) to go with Abington’s four-star forward Eric Dixon and four-star guard Justin Moore.
“Ryan led us to a national championship and really groomed the young guys that then went on to win the second national championship [in 2018],” Wright said. “In one way, it’s completely different [for Chris] because we’re coming off a really good year and when Ryan came in we were coming off a 13-19 season. But he is coming in at the same time as Ryan did when we had a really young team and we were rebuilding a little bit.”
Closing the gap
When Ryan came home after his second season with the Chicago Bulls, he started Chris’ crash course for his freshman season at Villanova.
“Don’t throw up in your first practice,” he told his younger brother.
Chris nodded, as if he had already considered this. Then, a few hours later, he asked Ryan what exactly he meant.
“Just push through it, you’ll be fine,” Ryan said, laughing.
The two have been practicing together for the last few weeks. Ryan, six years older and coming off an 82-game season in which he started 32 times, still has the advantage in their driveway, but it’s closer than it had been.
Chris is holding his own as much as could be expected for a teenager challenging an NBA athlete.
“Chris has closed the gap,” Joe said. “It was complete domination like two years ago. Now he’s stronger, Ryan’s got to work a little bit harder.”
Patti added, “Ryan comes in after a workout and he’s just looking at us like, ‘Chris is exhausted.' He was giving him an NBA workout."
Ryan’s mentorship has centered on adjusting to college basketball — how to get open and how to slow yourself down as the game speeds up.
On the day of Chris’ commitment, Wright tweeted, “Great to have an Arcidiacono back on the court.” In part because they are “Villanova royalty," and because of the demeanor that helps explain how one family has achieved so much in athletics.
“If you look at their competitiveness, their character, and their great passion for life, Patti and Joe have it and all of their kids exude it,” Wright said.
“They’re a tight-knit family, with great loyalty, and they play the same way with a team, with passion and loyalty.”