Sophomore guard Chris Arcidiacono had epitomized the meaning of patience as basically the 10th man for Villanova, playing a total of 17 minutes – usually mop-up time at the end of games – through the first 20 contests of the season.
But in Game 21, Arcidiacono finally got a chance to play meaningful minutes for the Wildcats, with point guards Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore watching from the bench because of injuries, and made the most of it.
The younger brother of former ‘Nova star Ryan Arcidiacono entered after Moore left the game with a sprained left ankle and gave the Wildcats a spark with his ballhandling and his energy on defense. In 25-plus minutes, he had four rebounds, two assists, and only one turnover.
With Gillespie (torn left medial collateral ligament) sidelined for the season and Moore out for at least the Big East Tournament, Arcidiacono is expected to play an important role when the No. 14 Wildcats start their quest for a fourth consecutive conference tournament championship Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
He attributed his readiness to Villanova’s tough practices.
“We try to make our practices as hard as the games,” Arcidiacono said Tuesday during a Zoom media availability. “I was ready physically and mentally for whenever I was going to be put in there, so definitely just being part of practice all year, being ready to be put into games.
“You’ve just got to always be ready at any point. That’s all I was worried about, was just staying ready.”
Coach Jay Wright said Arcidiacono has handled his role as “Ryan’s little brother” admirably. Wright was concerned that he would be constantly compared to his brother when he considered attending Villanova.
“He was very matter-of-fact,” Wright recalled. “He said, ‘Coach, it doesn’t bother me at all, I’ve done it my whole life.’ And I think he handled the situation at Providence the same way.
“He came in there, there was a lot of pressure on him. He’s just got a real mature mentality about him and he’s got a great understanding of Villanova basketball because he’s watched it his whole life. … He knows it inside and out and I think it gives us great confidence.”
Ryan Arcidiacono, now a guard with the Chicago Bulls who was visiting his family’s home in Langhorne during the NBA All-Star break, watched the game with his parents and two of his sisters, and called it “definitely cool.”
“Unfortunately, injuries happen and I don’t want to see him playing because of injuries,” Arcidiacono said in a telephone interview from Chicago. “But it’s just a next-man-up opportunity. For a kid to only play 17 minutes all year and then go in on the road and play the way he did and battle and have a chance to win it at the end, it was a pretty special proud moment that I had and I’m sure my family did as well.”
Arcidiacono said he and his brother practice together every day in the summer, playing fullcourt 1-on-1 and halfcourt. Chris also gets a chance to play against other NBA players from Villanova when they visit Davis Center.
“So it’s not like he hasn’t played against good players before,” Ryan Arcidiacono said. “It’s just a matter of when the lights come on and the pressure comes on, is he going to be ready to go? I think he’s just stayed ready all year.”
And yes, Ryan had some advice for his brother after the game, “just to get him to play a little faster in the backcourt.”
It was a good start for Chris Arcidiacono in a pressure situation, and Wright said he has “earned his position and the confidence of his teammates at the point guard spot.”
Wright a Hall of Fame finalist
Wright was named a finalist for consideration to election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a group that included nine players and five coaches. Wright is one of nine first-time finalists.
“It’s truly humbling to be considered as a candidate by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame committee,” Wright said in a statement. “To have your name mentioned with these incredible basketball icons is an honor.”
In his 20th season at Villanova, Wright has led the Wildcats to three NCAA Final Fours and national championships in 2016 and 2018. He is a two-time Naismith national coach of the year and the first coach to lead a team to four consecutive 30-win seasons.
He has won 488 games at Villanova and 610 in his career counting his seven seasons at Hofstra.