A myriad of emotions hit Jay Wright on the conclusion of his journey to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, from receiving the call Wednesday that he had been elected for induction into the shrine to actually hearing his name called Sunday announcing the Class of 2021.
“When I got the call, it was stunning, it was emotional, it was humbling,” Wright said Sunday night after returning from Springfield, Mass., on a day when the Villanova coach was introduced with 15 others for induction.
“Patty [his wife] and I went up Saturday and they kind of hid us away during the [2020 enshrinement] ceremony in a box with our other classmates. So we got to watch that. It was pretty cool being a part with all those guys. Then today with the announcement, it’s pretty overwhelming.”
One of the top head coaches in college basketball, Wright has won 612 games and two national championships during a 27-year coaching career – seven years at Hofstra and 20 at Villanova. His record with the Wildcats is 490-189 (.722), including four consecutive 30-victory seasons from 2014-15 through 2017-18, the first coach in NCAA history to accomplish that achievement.
He led the Wildcats to national championships in 2016 and 2018, defeating North Carolina and Michigan, respectively, in the title contests. He has been to a total of 17 NCAA tournaments, 15 with Villanova.
Wright said it was “kind of stunning” just being mentioned as a finalist in March, and even at the end of a festive day, he admitted, “I definitely do not feel like a Hall of Famer.
“I’m not sure what that’s supposed to feel like, to be honest with you,” he said. “But I think it’s overwhelming being there today and just sitting in a room with Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell and Chris Webber and Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce and Val Ackerman. You’re overwhelmed.
“It’s just incredible that you’re there. You love basketball and you love all the people that are in the game, and you’re hanging with them on their level. It’s very humbling and something I’m trying to come to grips with right now, to be honest.”
Garnett was enshrined on Saturday night. Russell, Webber, Bosh, and Pierce will be enshrined with Wright and the 2021 class on Sept. 11 along with Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East Conference.
Wright is known for the culture he has established at Villanova. He changed his recruiting philosophy after his 2011-12 team finished with a 13-19 record, the worst of his tenure on the Main Line. He chose to lean less toward five-star recruits and more to those who could fit into the team concept.
In his last nine seasons, Wright has led the Wildcats to a 255-59 record (.812), making eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
“We are so blessed at Villanova to get those kind of players and student-athletes,” he said earlier Sunday in an interview with ESPN. “The whole culture at Villanova – the campus, the community, the history, the basketball tradition, how everybody stays in touch with each other.
“The players come in and they have great respect for the former players. They play for those who came before them. They come in to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We’re so lucky to have those guys and be able to coach them, and it’s really because of the history and the tradition of Villanova basketball.”
Wright, who was born and raised in Bucks County, got his first coaching job at the University of Rochester in 1984. He served as an assistant there for two years and at Drexel for one before being hired at Villanova by Rollie Massimino in 1987.
After five seasons on the Main Line, Wright moved to Las Vegas to join Massimino, who became the new coach at UNLV. Wright spent two seasons there before taking his first head-coaching job in 1994 at Hofstra, where he compiled a record of 122-85.
Wright, who went to two NCAA Tournaments with the Pride, reached his first NCAA as Villanova’s head coach in 2005. Since then, he has been a part of March Madness every year except for 2012 and in 2020, when the tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.
Wright has led Villanova to eight Big East regular-season championships and four conference tournament titles. He has been named the league’s coach of the year six times and is a two-time Naismith national coach of the year recipient. He won the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching award in 2018.
Wright has an NCAA Tournament record of 30-15 and has been to three Final Fours, four Elite Eights and five Sweet 16′s, the latest being in 2021.
He also is an assistant coach on the U.S. men’s national basketball team, led by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, that is scheduled to compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
Wright will join seven other currently active college basketball coaches in the Hall of Fame, with Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), John Calipari (Kentucky), Rick Pitino (Iona), Bill Self (Kansas), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), and Jim Calhoun (University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn.).
Wright has nine former assistants who have become either college basketball head coaches or assistant coaches in the NBA. He also has nine players currently competing in the NBA.