NEW ORLEANS – Walking to the bus Thursday at the team hotel – “We were doing our Wildcat Walk,” Jay Wright said later. You probably know the drill: Villanova’s fans line the way, the head coach smiles and holds up a V for the cameras, everybody cheers along, the team gets on the bus.

It hit Wright a little bit, he said, walking out last, how he happened to be walking with Maalik Wayns, once a star ‘Nova point guard, now a staffer working in “student athlete development.”

“Look at this, how about you going to the Final Four as a coach?’’ Wright told Wayns. “Who would have ever thought?”

Life takes funny turns, even at the Final Four.

“Because he was a little bit of a hard head as a player, in a good way,” Wright said. “It’s what made him good, but you wouldn’t have thought he was going to be a coach.”

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Standing outside Villanova’s locker room at the Superdome ahead of Saturday’s date with Kansas, Wayns chatted with a reporter, along with fifth-year ‘Nova big man Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who has had one of the great “life takes funny turns” careers.

Four years ago, Cosby-Roundtree played meaningful minutes off the bench as Villanova swept to the 2018 NCAA Championship. His four points and seven rebounds (including five offensive rebounds) in 12 minutes in the Elite Eight against Texas Tech were especially meaningful.

This season, leg problems slowing him way down, Cosby-Roundtree is the guy you see in pregame huddles doing a lot of the talking. During a timeout, you’ll see him grab a mop and hit a wet spot on the floor Ochefu-style. You’ll see him do everything but play.

Originally, Cosby-Roundtree was designated as a student-coach, not playing at all. There was a six-game spell mostly in December when he came off Villanova’s bench. But that was it, the leg problems and multiple surgeries still slowing him, he hasn’t played since.

“He can’t go five days in a row,” Wright said. “But he’ll give us, in practice, two, three days where he can go against Eric Dixon all the time by himself. He’ll work through it on the scout team. So on day of the games, our scout team, if we eat breakfast at 8, our scout team is down there at 7 a.m., going through the stuff. He’s down there doing it. As a fifth-year senior.”

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Cosby-Roundtree can’t help but think back.

“It’s really a full-circle moment, just thinking about it,” Cosby-Roundtree said outside the locker room. “It’s so different, the two teams. Two completely different teams, different styles.”

So long ago.

“TikTok wasn’t even a thing when I was freshman,” Cosby-Roundtree said, thinking back to a different version of himself, “being so young and wide-eyed then.”

Always older than his years, though. Being the old guy now, it’s not a tough reach. His days growing up in Southwest Philadelphia serve him still.

“I’m the oldest in my family, the oldest brother,” Cosby-Roundtree said. “I had that role built into me, to be the watchman, the protector. I think it’s something that comes naturally.”

Of his current role, Cosby-Roundtree said, “It’s just part of the journey. Trying to be the best version of me I can be. The role I just took upon – anything this team needs, on the court, off the court. I had to think, it’s not really about myself.”

Helping where they can

At a couple of basketball events this year, such as Cancer vs. Cancer, Wayns and Cosby-Roundtree showed up together representing Villanova. The idea was to take a look at the sport from a different angle, “get a look at what it’s like to be a coach, see the political side of it,” Cosby-Roundtree said. “We both agreed to.”

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That’s kind of what Wayns is doing, regardless of title. He played briefly in the NBA for the Sixers and Clippers, then had a long career overseas, actually getting citizenship and playing for the national team of Belarus, which means he is paying particular attention to that part of the world right now. When Villanova won in ‘18, he was playing in Paris. In ‘16, Wayns can remember being alone in his apartment in Varese, Italy, screaming his head off when Kris Jenkins hit his shot, “5 or 6 o’clock in the morning.”

Since he’d left Villanova after his junior year, the idea was to come back, get his degree, which he now is on course to do in May, and then see if this coaching thing is for him.

“After this year, I’m sure, I want to coach,” Wayns said. “This became a love and a passion for me.”

How can you believe him? It’s not glamorous, what he’s doing. Someone wants to shoot, he’s there for them, not just the stars, the young guys.

“I mean, I take tape off the floor after practices -- we tape the floor for practices,” Wayns said. “Whatever, I carry bags ... ”

“We get off the plane and we’re getting the stuff, the bags from the plane, he’s helping the managers carry the bags from the plane to the bus,” Wright said. “Every once in a while, I’ll say to our guys, ‘That guy played in the NBA. Look at his humility. Look at what he’s doing for our team.’ ”

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Wayns will joke to his coach, “I just came back from class -- I’m 30 years old and sitting next to Jalen Brunson’s [younger] sister in class.”

His bigger role … being a voice.

“I try to tell these guys, as a young guy, you tend to look ahead, look down the road all the time,” Wayns said. “I kind of did that when I was younger, always looking for -- to get to the NBA, get to be a pro. I kind of tell these guys, don’t rush to that. This will be the most fun you’ll have in your life. This is the most you’ll be loved from coaches and staff in your life. Try to embrace it, try to enjoy it, enjoy every step of it. Don’t try to grow up too fast, try to get out of here too fast.”

His three years: second-round NCAA loss, first-round NCAA loss, then 13-19. Didn’t matter that Wayns himself was good enough to play on teams that went much further.

“Wasn’t as successful as people thought we would be,’’ Wayns said. “I don’t think it was for the reasons people thought. I was always committed to Villanova. I committed when I was 14. I stayed loyal my whole life. You go through your ups and downs, like anything, but this program has been everything to me. For me to not go to a Final Four wasn’t that much of a big deal to me because my dream was to play. But now that I get to experience it as a coach and get to help these guys be better, it’s a greater feeling now than it would have been as a player.”

Who would have thought?

This Roman Catholic graduate from West Oak Lane and Neumann Goretti grad from Southwest Philly know their paths have prepared them in unique ways. Cosby-Roundtree doesn’t rule out trying to play professionally, or coaching afterward. He’s already in graduate school, getting separate Masters’ degrees in education and counseling. He thinks about starting his own non-profit counseling center.

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“I believe a lot of issues in the inner-city, a lot of people don’t have guidance, don’t have mentors to talk about life outside of what they see every day,” Cosby-Roundtree said. “For me personally, basketball gave me that.”

Wayns hears him say that outside a tricked-out locker room inside an iconic American sporting venue, he nods along, mind back home.

“We’ve had deep conversations before,” Cosby-Roundtree said of car rides this season, getting to those events. “He helped me a lot, thinking about life in general. Me dealing with the injury, sometimes you get in your head. ‘Lik told me, stay in the moment, just embrace it.”

Who would have ever thought?