For some insight into how Villanova’s Saddiq Bey developed into one of the Big East Conference’s best players and a potential first-round pick in this year’s NBA draft, you have to go back to those long car rides home from his AAU travel-team days with his mother, a former college basketball player.

“She was probably my toughest critic, I would say, besides myself,” the Wildcats’ sophomore forward said in a recent interview. “There were a lot of times when I was younger in the car with her kind of telling me how much I need to get better or what I’m not doing.

“Honestly, at a young age, you’re like, ‘Why am I hearing this right now?’ But it helped me, just her being there. She’s my role model. Everything she’s done in her life, I just look up to. So I can’t really describe in words how much she’s meant to me.”

Drewana Bey has achieved much in her life, from her playing days at North Carolina-Charlotte, where she was team MVP in the 1997-98 season, to earning her doctorate in educational leadership from Bowie State in 2011. A former high school principal, she is an instructional superintendent of secondary schools in the District of Columbia public schools system.

To hear Bey tell it, his mother’s examples of how to work hard and stay focused on goals are a major reason he has flourished this season. He leads the Wildcats in scoring with a 16.0-point average and has improved his game in a number of areas, not the least of which are shooting, defense, and ballhandling.

“She’d put in the work every day and then she’d come home as a mom and support her kids,” he said. “So I just looked up to it. I just got to think how much she grinds each and every day and I try to take that with me. I think, ‘Am I really too tired to do certain things?’ No, I’m not because if she can do it, then I can do it.”

A strong work ethic

Villanova coach Jay Wright said he saw something special in Saddiq Bey from the middle of his freshman year last season, how he absorbed all the coaching, that “whatever you showed him and asked him to work on, he picked it up quickly and he put the time in.”

And he noted the contribution of Bey’s mother to those characteristics.

“She is very bright and hardworking,” Wright said, “and as I get to know her better as we go through this, I see a very close similarity in the two of them — a no-nonsense approach, never an excuse, always a remedy of hard work, like ‘What’s the next challenge? What do I have to do? Let’s get to work.’

“It’s never an excuse, never a problem. ‘Tell me what the next challenge is, tell me what I have to do, and I’ll get to work on it.' It’s the same thing academically. He’s really a very good student.”

Wright came upon Bey late in the recruiting process when he wanted to add to his roster after the departures of Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to the NBA following the 2018 national-championship season. Bey earlier had been on his radar, but when Villanova received a commitment from another prospect, Wright backed off and Bey signed with North Carolina State.

Bey, however, successfully was released from his letter of intent after N.C. State became embroiled in an FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Wright had a relationship with Eric Singletary, who worked with former ‘Nova star Josh Hart as well as Bey as the head coach at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, and he had a new commitment.

Curiously, Bey was listed as the lowest-rated recruit in the Cats’ 2018-19 class, No. 120 by Rivals (4-star) and No. 137 by 247Sports (3-star). He has proved the “experts” wrong, having increased his scoring average from 8.2 points as a freshman to 16.0, the largest one-year hike of any player on a current Big East roster.

Bey insists he never paid much attention to the high school rankings, and he didn’t try to prove the pundits wrong.

“That’s why I loved the circle of people that was around me because nobody ever mentioned, ‘Hey, you’re this ranking or that,’ ” he said. “I just wanted to play in college. That was my goal. Obviously, I knew about the rankings, but it’s all good.”

Growing up ... and up

Bey actually began his quest toward his goal as a 5-foot-8 freshman point guard before going on what he called a “gradual” growth spurt to his current height of 6-8. As a smaller player, however, he learned skills that have helped him become a fine ballhandler, particularly against a press.

It’s all come to fruition for him this season as one of the go-to guys in Wright’s offense. His all-around game has been enhanced by his ability as a three-point shooter. His conference-best percentage of 44.7 from deep is seventh in Division I, and with 76 threes, he averages 2.5 per game.

“He’s a matchup problem just with his size and his skill,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “I think he’s gotten a lot stronger and he’s shooting the ball at a higher clip. What you like about his game is, he’s under control. He plays the game with poise and a control and a confidence.”

Bey made 8 of 10 three-point shots and scored a career-high 33 points in the season’s first meeting against Georgetown. His 20-point performance in a win Wednesday night over Seton Hall was his 11th game this season of 20 points or more, and his 7-for-13 shooting night marked the 17th time he has shot 50% or better in a game.

It’s not just offense, however, Bey has become the designated defender on some of the Big East’s best scorers, such as Markus Howard of Marquette and Myles Powell of Seton Hall. Powell shot just 5-for-18 from the field Wednesday.

With his size, versatility, and talent, the NBA scouts are watching. One scout said Bey “has set himself up to be a first-round pick” and could play small forward or power forward in the pros.

“He’s taken the next step as far as his development,” the scout said. “I think there’s a very good chance that he sticks at the next level because of his ability to make shots, his ability to defend, his size, his length, his ability to move laterally. He’s a very well-rounded player. He’s a smart player. I think with Villanova’s track record, you always know what you’re getting with these guys.”

Draft buzz no distraction

Mock drafts have Bey going either late in the first round or early in the second. One recent Sports Illustrated article listed him No. 16 in its ranking of players who could be drafted.

Of course, Villanova’s “next-game” mentality combined with Bey’s “next-challenge” outlook means there’s no time right now to be distracted by the chance to play pro ball.

“It’s trying to be there for my guys every day, and my guys just being there for everybody and my coaches and stuff like that,” Bey said. “That makes it easier to kind of just not worry about any of that type of stuff and just try to be the best we can be every day. That’s actually what really helps.”

As for the buzz about his moving on after the season, Bey said, “I wouldn’t say it’s a hassle. I know a lot of Villanova basketball fans are passionate. But just knowing that, personally for me, that I’m just focused on this team and this season, that’s where I am. I’m just going to focus on one day at a time.”

And he’s not going to settle for just being where he’s at. He knows he has more room for improvement and that is his next challenge. As his mother would say, “No excuses.”

“That’s crazy that we talk about ‘next play’ here,” he said, “but I think I use that in life. Like whatever happened before, just go on with it and know what you could have done better in every situation. I usually think about any failures or any successes the same way.”