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Jay Wright and Villanova Wildcats parade down Market Street, staking claim as Philly icons

"I thought you guys would get tired of parades," Coach Wright said. "But no way."

The Villanova men’s basketball team celebrates along Market Street during the parade for the 2018 NCAA champions.
The Villanova men’s basketball team celebrates along Market Street during the parade for the 2018 NCAA champions.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Like Villanova's championship-winning team, there was no standout superstar Thursday.

There was no Jason Kelce delivering an expletive-laden tirade — no moment destined to go viral. But the parade of champions along Market Street to celebrate the Wildcats was a shining moment all the same, the second of its kind led by coach Jay Wright in the last three years.

"We do this so much in Philadelphia," Wright said during a buzzing rally after the parade, "I thought you guys would get tired of parades. But no way."

Beginning Thursday morning, double-decker buses drove east on Market Street, carrying the team that was staking its claim as a Philadelphia sports empire. In 2016, some 60,000 fans poured into the city to celebrate Villanova's exhilarating win over North Carolina, the team's first national title since 1985. In February, hundreds of thousands crowded Philadelphia streets for that other championship parade that happened.

Thursday's parade to honor Villanova's season, capped by a dominating 79-62 win over Michigan in the national championship game, was decidedly calmer. But thousands still huddled in 45-degree temperatures from 20th and Market Streets to Dilworth Park to glimpse the team that some say is ushering in a new era in college basketball — a blue dynasty of sorts.

The fans came from Villanova University in Radnor, where classes were canceled Thursday, and hundreds of students woke up early so they could secure a spot in line to ride the Paoli-Thorndale Regional Rail line into the city, creating a sea of black leggings, Uggs boots, and 'Nova T-shirts. They lifted their "V's" and their iPhones and threw streamers in the air as their two-time heroes went by.

The fans came from elsewhere on the Main Line, too, singing Queen's "We Are the Champions" with their kids and bringing their dogs, decked out in blue and white. They came from across Philadelphia, some using the occasion as a substitute for missed parades of the past. Eric Clark, 56, of West Philadelphia, said he couldn't make it to the epic Eagles celebration in February because of work. For him, Thursday's parade was "the next best thing."

One fan, who happened to be visiting a daughter in Philly, came from as far as China.

Fans were armed with signs reading "Let's Go Nova" and "Villy Villy!" — a callback to the shamelessly corporate "Dilly Dilly" and "Philly Philly" phrases that somehow became popular after the Eagles' Super Bowl win.

The championship parade kicked off at 20th and Market about 11 a.m., led by police on motorcycles, a truck replaying the championship game on its flank, the school's marching band, and, naturally, mascot Will D. Cat. Fire trucks came from Wayne and Bryn Mawr to escort their hometown champs.

Atop a double-decker team bus was Wright, standing amid bursts of blue and white confetti. Wright has led the team since 2001 and is one of only three active men's basketball coaches with multiple national championships. Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said of Wright: "This team resembles him. They're smart. They're relentless. They're unselfish, and they're tough, just like the city of Philadelphia."

There was team leader and all-American Jalen Brunson, who hoisted the title trophy aboard the bus, later telling a crowd of fans: "We couldn't have done it without you."

He stood alongside Donte DiVincenzo, the bench player who burst into national prominence during March Madness and whose 31-point showing in San Antonio earned him a spot in NCAA record books. The sophomore guard known as "the Michael Jordan of Delaware" and "Big Ragu," was among a group of players throwing national-championship T-shirts to fans.

Behind him was Mikal Bridges, an NBA lottery prospect who graduated from Great Valley High School in Malvern, who said he never thought he'd be a part of a national championship, let alone two. After he told the crowd, "I love you guys so much," his fans reciprocated with thunderous chants of "One more year!"

"Hey," Wright quipped, "he does have his degree already."

Also atop a bus was the team chaplain, the Rev. Rob Hagan, who told a 6ABC reporter along the parade route that seeing fans dotting the streets was "really beyond words."

"We play all our home games right here in Philadelphia, so it's great for the whole city, for the community," he said. "We're psyched."

By 12:30 p.m., the festivities had wrapped up and cleanup efforts were underway. And though the celebration wasn't as big as the Eagles' parade and might not have even been as large as the parade the Wildcats experienced in 2016, it felt to many as if something new — a golden age for Villanova basketball — was solidified.

Abigail Porterfield, a Villanova freshman, decided to attend the university after the 2016 championship win and never expected she'd attend a second parade. But now?

"I think we'll do it again."