SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Villanova coach Jay Wright, a Bucks County guy who began his coaching career more than 30 years ago as an assistant at Division III Rochester and went on to win two national championships with the Wildcats, officially was enshrined Saturday night into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wright was honored along with eight other former players and coaches from the NBA and the WNBA, along with seven players, coaches, and administrators who were directly elected by Hall of Fame committees.
In his speech at MassMutual Center, accompanied by Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Herb Magee, and George Raveling, Wright saluted his wife, Patty, his three children and his parents, all of whom were in attendance.
He called his wife “the kindest, smartest woman I know.”
“Like a lot of us coaches, I’m overly competitive, a workaholic, and at times too controlling,” he said. “Left to my own devices, I probably would have screwed this coaching thing up. Thank God Patty’s been my guiding light. She always tells me the truth. I don’t always take it well. I’m not very coachable but it always keeps me out of trouble and keeps me on the right path.”
He said his father once told him “basketball was not a tough guy sport.
“After I told him basketball was my favorite sport, he fell in love with the game and did everything he could to help me succeed,” he said.
“My mom’s always been my biggest fan. I always tell my players after we lose, ‘I know your moms are blaming this loss on me, telling you it’s my fault.’ I’m just telling you, to my mom, it’s never my fault.”
Wright, 59, played at Council Rock North High School and Bucknell.
Of Magee, who recently announced this is his last season at Jefferson, Wright said he learned how to shoot and how to teach shooting from him.
“He’s the best ever,” Wright said. “Coach Magee recruited me out of high school and continues to remind me, I would have made something of myself if I had played for him.”
Former Sixers player and coach Billy Cunningham also was to accompany Wright to the stage but could not attend due to a health issue, Wright said. He said Cunningham had a special relationship with Rollie Massimino, who had Wright on his coaching staff.
“Billy represents the coaching fraternity in Philadelphia,” Wright said. “Most importantly, his relationship with Coach Massimino. Billy C., Chuck Daly, and coach Massimino were all great friends. Bill and Chuck are the only two people coach Massimino would listen to except Mrs. Massimino. Therefore, I listened to all four of them including Mrs. Massimino.
“It’s simple to say if not for coach Massimino, I would not be standing here tonight.”
Wright also acknowledged his college coach, Charlie Woollum, and Mike Near, who hired him for his first assistant coaching job at the University of Rochester.
Wright has added another honor since being named to the Hall — being an assistant coach on Team USA and helping lead it to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
He said Friday that writing his Hall speech reminded him of his academic career — “waiting until the last minute.”
“I thought when we were over in Tokyo, we were locked up, and in lockdown and quarantine, that I would have time to work on it and I didn’t,” he said. “I was worried about my speech but it actually came real easily. I did it myself and I’m surprised. Once I started to do it, it came real easily. It came from the heart.”
Accompanied by his wife, Wright received his Hall of Fame ring and the Hall’s distinctive orange jacket at Friday night’s Hall of Fame dinner at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. Former Inquirer sportswriter Mel Greenberg, the “Guru of Women’s Basketball,” was honored at the dinner with the Curt Gowdy Award for Print.
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, former 76er Chris Webber, and legendary center Bill Russell, already in the Hall as a player but being honored Saturday as a coach, were among the 2021 inductees.
In her speech Saturday night, Ackerman praised Wright.
“It has been such a privilege to work with Jay over the past eight years,” she said. “I can tell you that the new Big East would not be where it is today without him and Villanova leading the way.”
In conjunction with Wright’s enshrinement, the university announced Saturday night that the roadway separating Finneran Pavilion and the Davis Center will be named “The Wright Way” to honor the coach.
“It is important to all of us at Villanova that we honor Jay’s incredible coaching career on this historic night,” director of athletics Mark Jackson said. “We felt the ideal location to showcase this tribute was between the two homes of Villanova Basketball, Finneran Pavilion and the Davis Center, as a fitting tribute to Jay and Patty Wright.”
Wright has won 612 games in his 27-year head coaching career — seven seasons at Hofstra and 20 at Villanova — and owns a .691 winning percentage. His record with the Wildcats is 490-189 (.722), including four consecutive 30-victory seasons from 2014 through 2018, the first coach in NCAA history to achieve that distinction.
In the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons, Wright led the Wildcats to the national championship, defeating North Carolina in the 2016 title game in Houston and Michigan in the 2018 contest at San Antonio. He has been to a total of 17 NCAA Tournaments, 15 at Villanova.
In his last nine seasons, Wright has led the Wildcats to a 255-59 record (.812), making eight consecutive NCAA Tournaments.