A man of style, and also substance
He blushed. "This is very uncomfortable," Jay Wright said. "I know you have to do it, but I'm going to get killed for this. My boys are going to kill me if they read this."
"This is very uncomfortable," Jay Wright said. "I know you have to do it, but I'm going to get killed for this. My boys are going to kill me if they read this."
This is a breakdown of Wright's closet - his two closets, actually. The best-dressed man in college basketball, the one whom announcers routinely laud as dapper and debonair, has two closets in his bedroom, one for his suits ("about 30"), the other for his shirts, shoes and slacks. Organized by style. An outfit for every occasion.
Villanova's coach has a deal with Hugo Boss and another with a local custom clothier, Gabriele D'Annunzio, who has hand-made for Wright about a dozen suits in the last three years, including the three Wright was planning to take with him to Detroit for this weekend's Final Four.
Wright says he puts little thought into what he wears, but that can't be altogether true. D'Annunzio uses the finest wool fabrics for the suits and tailors them to accentuate Wright's broad shoulders. The shirts, with D'Annunzio's signature piped breast pockets, have tall collars to account for Wright's long neck and reflect a quarter-inch disparity between his arms. And Wright orders his size 13 leather shoes from a dealer in Atlanta.
The coach's carefully tailored look, along with his effervescent personality, has come to define the 47-year-old, who will make his Final Four debut tomorrow night when the Wildcats play North Carolina.
But beneath the suit and the smile is an unapologetically demanding man few outside his inner basketball circle ever see. It is that tough coach, the one who will unload a stream of obscenities if one of his players doesn't dive for a loose ball or hustle on defense, who has led Villanova to its first Final Four since 1985.
The suit is nice. The substance is something else.
"The man is two totally different people," said Atlanta Hawks guard Speedy Claxton, who at Hofstra was Wright's first marquee player. "That guy is like Jekyll and Hyde."
Sense of style
In 1979, the students at Council Rock High School voted Jerold T. Wright best-looking and best-dressed in the senior class. Wright was a clotheshorse even back then.
The process came naturally. Wright was the oldest of Jerold and Judith Wright's four children, and the strikingly tall Judith was fashionable in an era when clothes tended to be flashy and outrageous.
"She had a tremendous sense of style," said Mike Mikulski, who grew up in the same development as Wright in Bucks County and remains close friends with the coach. "She was very tall and a really good-looking woman, and clearly it rubbed off on him."
If Wright got his style from his mother, he got his competitiveness from his father, who worked as a salesman and coached his son in various sports. Jay was the shortstop on the baseball team, the quarterback on the football team, and the point guard on the basketball team.
As seventh and eighth graders, Wright and Mikulski would lift weights at Wright's house, and would shoot hoops in the driveway until nightfall. As a rising sophomore entering Council Rock, Wright decided to concentrate on basketball, and started for coach Mike Holland's team for three seasons.
He was scrappy and opinionated and confident, and even then had a coach's mentality. In a game against Delhaas High, Holland drew up a play for one of Wright's teammates during a time-out. When the players walked back onto the court, Wright huddled them together and changed the play so he would get the ball and take the shot.
After the game, Holland ripped Wright, telling him: "Don't you ever change my play again. Mine would have worked."
"But mine did work," Wright replied.
"He always wanted to be a coach," said Holland, 59, who will be Wright's guest at the game tomorrow. "He may not tell you that, but deep down he did. He was always diagramming plays."
"That's Jay," Mikulski said. "He's just a bright guy, very confident. There were certainly some people who if they didn't know him, you could say he was cocky. But he was a good person, and he was very intense. It was easy to make a judgment from afar. 'He's good-looking and talented, so he must be a jerk.' That's the other edge of the sword, but he wasn't like that."
Wright went to Bucknell, where he studied economics and sociology and played basketball for Charlie Woollum. He was a starter as a junior but came off the bench as a senior, something that didn't please Wright at the time but gave him an appreciation for the role of the bench player.
"As a coach, if I [would have] coached me, I would have hated me," Wright said. "I probably would have liked playing for a coach like me, but that's what I've become, and I know I kind of needed that."
Wright's experience at Bucknell humbled him but didn't deter him. After college, he worked as an administrative assistant for the United States Football League's Philadelphia Stars, then spent time as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Rochester and Drexel. In 1987, Wright caught his big break when Steve Lappas, then an assistant coach at Villanova, recommended him to the Wildcats' head coach at the time, Rollie Massimino, who hired Wright as an assistant coach.
Wright, whose wife, Patricia, is a 1983 Villanova graduate, spent five years coaching the Wildcats. Then, in 1992, he went to Nevada-Las Vegas with Massimino even though he had an opportunity to stay at Villanova.
The two years he spent in Las Vegas proved to Wright that he was an East Coast guy at heart. When he had head coaching opportunities at Northern Arizona and Hofstra, Wright chose Hofstra.
Seven years later, on March 27, 2001, Wright succeeded Lappas as Villanova's head coach. He came full circle. He came home.
Not an act
To hear people tell it, Jay Wright might be the nicest guy in Pennsylvania. He's eternally upbeat, high-energy, thoughtful and accessible. Walk with him across Villanova's campus, as athletic director Vince Nicastro often has, and be prepared for the trip to take twice as long as it should, because Wright will speak to every student and faculty member he sees.
His friendliness isn't an act, Wright's friends and colleagues say. That's who he is.
"He has a remarkable ability to connect with people and make them feel good about themselves, make them feel like the most important person in the world," Nicastro said. "It must be exhausting for him to do, but he does it every minute of every day."
Wright is many things - son, husband, father of three, basketball coach, fund-raiser, friend and, of course, fashionista. But Speedy Claxton learned on the first day of practice his freshman year at Hofstra that Wright was something else, something most people didn't get to see.
"He is a coach, so there is a mean side that not too many people see or understand," said Claxton, who sent Wright a text message after Villanova beat Pittsburgh last weekend and credits Wright with turning him into an NBA-caliber guard. "He's very, very intense. There's definitely nothing wrong with it. You just don't expect it because that's not the person you meet. You expect it from John Chaney. You knew John Chaney was like that. But then Coach Wright, he's the nicest guy in the world, or at least that's what I thought."
Early in Claxton's freshman season, Wright put the players through a diving drill, in which they dived on the floor for every loose ball. Whoever didn't dive had to run. Not diving in a game meant a tongue-lashing and a seat next to Wright on the bench.
"The first day of practice, I was like, 'Who the hell is this guy?' " Claxton said. "It was like a different switch. I was shocked. I was like, 'Oh, my God, this guy is crazy.' "
The Villanova players understand what Claxton was saying. They know what makes Wright the angriest: showboating, moping, missing a defensive assignment, not giving 100 percent.
"If there's a loose ball and you're in that area and you're not diving on it, that would make him the maddest," Dante Cunningham said.
"He feels a responsibility to everybody that came before us and before him to lead this great tradition in the right direction," Scottie Reynolds said, "and the only way he feels he can do that and take full responsibility of that is us playing hard and playing together, playing smart and playing with pride. . . . If he sees that you're not doing that, then he has to make some changes."
But Jekyll and Hyde?
"That dude is totally two different dudes," Claxton said.
Going to Detroit
On Tuesday morning, Patricia Wright picked up three suits from D'Annunzio's Newtown Square store. They had been cleaned and pressed, and D'Annunzio knew: gray with a pink pinstripe, navy, and gray - those three suits would be making the trip to Detroit.
D'Annunzio, 65, started designing suits for Wright three or four years ago, after Villanova assistant coach Patrick Chambers introduced them. D'Annunzio recommended that Wright move away from the four-button style (too young) and tailor the wide shoulders while keeping the longer jacket.
"He's in the basketball business, so like most of the people in the business, he likes the longer jackets, but he wants to be a little more elegant," said D'Annunzio, a native of Abruzzo, Italy, who has worked here for 43 years. "A lot of people are not that detail-oriented with the clothing. Men get a little funny about being too fussy, not that he's fussy. But he's got a good eye. He knows what looks good."
Wright swears that he puts no thought into what he wears daily, that he just goes to his closets, pulls out a couple of things, and is off. His dry-cleaning bill during the season approaches $300 a month, and the suits, while not the most expensive D'Annunzio designs, cost between $2,000 and $3,500 apiece.
"I always liked clothes," Wright said. "I did it in high school. I did it in college. I don't know. I think just my mom's influence. I was always conscious of it, but I never wanted to be wild with it."
Asked to explain his style, Wright struggled to find the right words.
"Simple but . . . give me a word," he said. "I don't know if I can go with elegant. Simple but tasteful."
Like his style, the coach is hard to define. Wright is not all about the suit. There is substance.
"He's not perfect," said Mikulski, his close friend, "but he's not going to tell you he's perfect. He's just a good guy and a very intense competitor. We all hate to lose, but he's very competitive, which is how you get to be who he is."
Here is a tale of the tailor's tape, specifically that of 65-year-old custom clothier Gabriele D'Annunzio of Newtown Square, who is an architect of Villanova coach Jay Wright's wardrobe.
Size 44, length 35
Right sleeve length: 36
Left sleeve length: 353/4