Even though his players haven’t been on campus since Villanova closed in March because of the pandemic, Jay Wright has had plenty to talk about with them, particularly after the death of George Floyd, an African American man, while in police custody last month in Minneapolis.
“You’re talking to a lot of young men who are really hurting,” Wright said Tuesday in a Zoom conference call with reporters. “Usually on your team, you’ve got one guy that’s going through something and you can all rally around him. This is, you’ve got a bunch of guys on the entire team and coaches who are really, really hurting.
“We first just listened, just tried to be empathetic and let guys know that we love them and we care for them and we felt their pain.”
Wright’s point, however, has gone from dealing with the pain of the death of Floyd, who was pinned down by the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer for more than eight minutes, to his players’ response to the tragedy – finding out the names of officials in their hometowns and registering to vote.
“We’re putting together a program,” he said, “where we’re educating the guys as to who the mayor is, who the town supervisor is, who the chief of police is, in their hometowns, getting the guys to register to vote, whether those positions are elected positions or appointed positions, and teaching them on how to use their pressure, their protest, and their influence to affect systematic change.
“So it’s now turned into an educational conversation where, in the beginning, it was purely kind of a loving, compassionate conversation.”
Wright tweeted Wednesday a message urging members of “Nova Nation” to vote on Nov. 3. He also released a photo titled “Fourteen Reasons Why,” showing each of his players wearing a white jersey with a different message in all capital letters, including “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and the names of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was shot to death in her Louisville home.
Villanova forward Saddiq Bey, who announced Tuesday that he would remain in the NBA draft, said he had taken part in a protest in Washington, near his home in Largo, Md.
He said Floyd’s killing “hurt me, my family, and my community. We kind of go through adversity of that kind every year and it’s sad to see that, especially recently. This one, I think, was kind of the boiling point, the tipping point, of the injustice that’s been going on.
“I did go to[the protest] to see the support and just the communal bond that everybody had. It was peaceful. There’s a lot of people there every day of the week. It was a beautiful thing to see. [Floyd’s death] is an unfortunate event, but I think it’s really going to have an impact in the future.”
Wright also has been guiding his players through the pandemic with Zoom conferences and FaceTime calls. With the campus closed, the Wildcats are working out from home with the guidance of strength coach John Shackleton. The coach said he remains in touch with his athletic director, Mark Jackson, about a possible return that is still to be determined.
“I usually don’t give our players any information unless I know it’s true,” he said. “I keep telling them, ‘Anything I tell you could change in a day or two.’ We’re not allowed on campus yet as a coaching staff. We don’t have any timeline yet for when the players could get back.
“We are prepared for our guys to go through summer workouts on their own, and then the first time we see them would be at the end of August when we start school. That’s what we’re prepared for. If anything is better than that, when we can get them back, that’s going to be gravy.”
Wright said he’s also prepared for changes in the normal college basketball schedule. As for having fans at games, it’s something that “I can’t see right now.”
He said playing in an empty facility would compare to a preseason scrimmage, like the home-and-home ones the Cats played the last two seasons against North Carolina, which are open only to team personnel.
“The scrimmages are ferocious and we love them,” Wright said. “It’s kind of a weird competitiveness. It’s like being in a cage almost. There’s no one else around, it’s two teams just sparring. It’s kind of cool. So we’d be OK with that.