From the outside, it’s easy to wonder, did Villanova do the right thing in replacing Jay Wright? One of the premier jobs in the sport and the school stayed in Wright’s coaching tree, bringing back former top assistant Kyle Neptune after just one season at Fordham.

Was it at least worth some calls to make sure, say, Brad Stevens didn’t want to return to college coaching? Or talk about getting the next hot up-and-comer in the sport? Sure, Neptune did a fine job at Fordham, but we’re still talking about one season with a 16-16 record and zero wins over teams in the top 100.

Fact check: Villanova did the right thing.

Fact, not opinion? Yes. The facts are coming in. All of the Villanova players who are sticking with this makes it so. Even some people close to the program were surprised by the lack of movement toward the transfer portal, with only Bryan Antoine so far going into the portal, and let’s maybe assume Antoine would have gone off in search of more playing time even if Wright had stayed.

In this portal era, now meeting the NIL era, bringing in even a superstar coach would have brought in all sorts of unknowns.

“I think if it was a different guy, a guy we didn’t know, there would have been a lot more decisions to make,” said Villanova guard Caleb Daniels in a telephone interview this week.

‘Nothing really changes’

Daniels, who is staying put for his last year of eligibility, had been through this once before, after a coaching change at Tulane. Far different circumstances in terms of success of the teams, but still, a new man coming in got Daniels thinking.


“I feel like nothing really changes — he’s one of us,” Daniels said of Neptune taking over.

Daniels also used the term “established relationships” in describing the importance of Neptune taking over. “Really important that we upheld those relationships.”

It’s not surprising that Daniels and Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon would stay put or that Justin Moore will rehab from his Achilles surgery here. That’s the core of a strong returning group. But the players who didn’t see as much playing time last season are so far staying put and, just as important, a big-time recruiting class still plans to show up in full.

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Yes, the veterans got involved, Daniels said, in talking to the high school seniors. Cam Whitmore, Mark Armstrong, and Brendan Hausen have all reaffirmed their commitments.

“Just letting them know that nothing really changes, that Nep is one of us,” Daniels said of talking to the recruits. “It’s going to be OK.”

Villanova is unique

Now that we know Wright had planned to make his move as the season wound down, it’s interesting to look back at his own words. For instance, I asked Wright before the Final Four about the relative lack of success overall from his former assistants at other places, how the Jay Wright coaching tree was kind of a mixed bag at best. (Never wrote the piece, planned it for the offseason. Moot now.)

It’s not on Wright to win games at other places, but Ashley Howard, for instance, talked about how he soon realized he couldn’t simply implement Villanova’s system at La Salle.

“This is the best college basketball job in America,” Wright said the day before leaving for his last Villanova Final Four. “If you look at all the factors — I’m talking about your lifestyle, your ability to recruit, the time you have to spend recruiting, the distance you have to go to get players — you look at everything. … If you look at the connection between the passion and rationality of fans, I’ve done this a lot. This is the best college coaching job in America.”

But …

“I tell our guys — and they know it — you can’t take this, what we do here, to another program,” Wright said. “You have to get to that other place and figure out what are the values, what are the strengths of that university, and they all have their own. But none of them have what Villanova has. There’s never been a [Villanova] coach who hasn’t been successful, and the coach that follows me will be successful. I guarantee it — because of this place.”

Those other places ... different places.

“It’s not like our guys are leaving here and they’re giving them the Duke job,” Wright had said.

For Kyle Neptune, he left for a season, and he’s now gotten a job that is currently similar to the Duke job, with built-in advantages and baked-in pressures.

The reason it makes sense? The returning players are talented enough to give Villanova a preseason ranking even without their Hall of Fame coach, and those returning players know Neptune personally. He was involved in their recruiting, even the incoming freshmen. These players have already bought in. If Jay Wright truly built something lasting, it makes absolute sense to prove that with a man who learned from him.

Yes, a different lead voice now, Caleb Daniels said, “but still the same principles.”

A stranger, no matter his credentials, would have been the greater risk.