Now, it’s official. Villanova is going to have big legitimate “maybe they can win it all” kinds of expectations for next season. That is what Tuesday’s news that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is taking his name out of the NBA draft and returning to school meant, not just on the Main Line, but to the college basketball world.
Even in this time of isolation, Robinson-Earl said he got feedback — “and it was good feedback” — that he would have been drafted. But discussions with his coach, Jay Wright, were about how it made sense to wait and get to the NBA as more of a finished product.
“A few days ago, he called me, ‘You know what, I just want to continue my work. I don’t want to be bothered with any of the NBA stuff,’ ‘’ Wright said.
“Cool. Let your teammates know.”
“I don’t want to make a big deal of it,’’ the 6-foot-9 forward told his coach.
Except, it is kind of a big deal, so a media Zoom call was arranged. Even if Saddiq Bey leaves for the NBA, Villanova looks like it has the depth and experience to be a national contender. “They like that pressure,’’ Wright said of the expectations.
You could argue that Robinson-Earl had the best freshman season, both ends of the court, of any Villanova player in recent years, which is no small feat.
“I always felt like our team was going to be OK either way,’’ Wright said. “Whenever someone leaves, it just gives an opportunity for someone else.”
Wright didn’t completely rule out the idea that Bey could return for his junior season, noting that the idea of winning a national title is important to Bey. But Bey’s draft status looks to be first round, and maybe lottery, so the odds always were far higher that Bey would be going. Still true.
Players can’t be naive, so none of the rest of us should be, either. If the NBA is ready to make you a lottery pick, you’d better factor that in.
“He would have gotten drafted,’’ Wright said of Robinson-Earl. “Wherever he went, he would have gotten better. He’s got an incredible work ethic, great IQ. But, he’s going to make himself better here starting and playing a lot of minutes. He could have been playing in the G League, or on the bench, working out extra with the assistants in the NBA next year. I think he was choosing to do it in game situations.”
Because the world is put on hold, he couldn’t even get the benefit of working out for NBA teams right now, with that whole process in limbo, so Robinson-Earl shut it down.
With Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels back to be senior starters, and the rest of the guard depth Villanova has, and the addition of guard Caleb Daniels, a Tulane transfer, and power forward Eric Dixon, a redshirt last season, the competition for minutes should be formidable. Can Bryan Antoine jump into a starring role? Can Justin Moore keep on his own high trajectory? All sorts of questions. Bottom line: Both the floor and the ceiling look high for 2020-21.
“I see him developing into a complete player where he’s going to be able to do everything,’’ Wright said of Robinson-Earl. “Overall, facing the basket … when you say you get good at something, it’s not what you do in workouts or during practices. You have to be in a game situation, on the road, at Seton Hall, at Georgetown, game on the line. You’ve got to be able to face the basket, hit a three, drive the ball, make the right decision, make the right pass. That’s when you’re good. That’s what he was starting to do at the end of the year. That’s what he’ll be able to do for us next season.”
Wright said he thought Robinson-Earl, already a great rebounder, could be a great playmaker for them.
“He’s a great passer,’’ Wright said. “He’s got a great feel for the game. He just needs the reps at this level.”
Right now, of course, even workout reps are hard to come by. Robinson-Earl was speaking from his home in Kansas.
“I’ve been doing a lot of ballhandling, just kind of in the garage,’’ Robinson-Earl said. “Just really safe ways of just getting in the gym — just making sure there’s very minimal people going in and out. There have been times when I found a gym but there were too many people and I didn’t want to risk doing that. … I can even work on technique outside on the driveway.”
This decision, Robinson-Earl made clear, at least provides him some peace of mind at a crazy time. Villanova hoops fans won’t mind a little good news, either.