Jay Wright is a basketball coach, and a successful one. The month of March usually finds him in front of the Villanova bench at an NCAA Tournament location, and if that run should conclude before the end of the month, he’s out recruiting for future seasons.
March 2020, however, is unlike anything ever seen with the coronavirus pandemic gripping the country. For Wright, it means keeping up with his players on Zoom, making sure they’re good with their online classes, and resting after the premature end to their season.
Mainly, the whole experience of life without basketball is surreal, strange, and sobering for Wright, who completed his 19th season on the Main Line with a 24-7 record, a piece of the Big East regular-season championship, and a No. 10 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.
“It’s really bizarre,” Wright said Wednesday in a video chat with reporters from his Berwyn home.
“We’ve talked to our team about this. This is the greatest example – you don’t have control of what happens to you in life. What you have control of is what your response to what happens to you is, and how you approach each day and each challenge. What’s your attitude?
"I’m really trying to live that myself, honestly. I’m saying, ‘OK, what’s the positive in this?’ Obviously, time spent with my family.
“Since it came out that we were selling our house and downsizing, thank God we didn’t sell our house because we have all the kids home, girlfriends, everybody. We’re enjoying that time together, and I’m really trying to test myself on what else is there in me besides basketball.
“What else is there in me and trying to get our players to do the same – being a better father, being a better husband, spending more time with the kids, watching movies, reading, being more worldly. I can’t say I’m good at it, but I’m really trying to test myself.”
Wright has made sure that his players, coaches, and those around him keep the current times in perspective.
“This is our life, sports, basketball is our life,” he said. “But it’s so minimal and it’s kind of crazy to be talking about it right now. But I think we all set the tone that’s most important, is what’s going on in our country and the people that are ill, and people who are vulnerable, and just great respect for our health-care providers. I think those people are the true heroes and the courageous people in our country right now.”
Wright thought his players were playing their best basketball at the time the Big East and NCAA Tournaments were canceled March 12. The Cats played 20 games between Dec. 30 and March 7 with no bye weeks, and he ordered his players to rest before next week’s resumption of workouts. He said the health of his players and their families is fine.
The future, at this point, is murky. Forwards Saddiq Bey, listed as a late-first-round pick in several mock drafts, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are expected to test the NBA draft waters while keeping their option to return to the team. But with the NBA season suspended, the predraft schedule is undefined.
“We’re trying to get them as much information as possible,” Wright said. “Both of them will probably go through the process. If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do, there’s so many possibilities.
"Just to take it to an extreme, they might not have a predraft process. They might have the draft with no workouts. They’ll just use the evaluations they had during the season.”
Wright had been scheduled to be part of Team USA’s coaching staff, headed by Gregg Popovich, for the Tokyo Olympics this summer. He had devised a plan to work with his players before leaving for training camp July 5, and after he returned Aug. 9, but the postponement of the Games changed all that.
“We worked so hard on putting this plan together on how we were going to attack this with me being away in July, and now it doesn’t even matter,” he said.
So in the meantime, Wright sits at home, “eight people, two dogs, and a cat," he said. For the first time, he watched a replay Sunday of the 2016 national championship game against North Carolina and said, “There’s so many things I missed.”
Family members and guests are holding a tournament Thursday on the outdoor tennis court. They take turn preparing meals. Wright said he has “played more crazy games than I ever have.”
“What I don’t want to do is Tik Tok,” he said. “I don’t want that out viral, me dancing anywhere.”
He has also received sound advice from his wife.