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Pinkston has grown on Villanova

JayVaughn Pinkston has matured into a team-oriented player, and coach Jay Wright has noticed.

JayVaughn Pinkston. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
JayVaughn Pinkston. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)Read more

SOMEDAY AFTER the NCAA Tournament is over and, since JayVaughn Pinkston is of legal age, Villanova coach Jay Wright said he's going to buy his senior forward a beer and ask him what changed.

The conversation Wright said he was going to have with Pinkston before the season started, the one about senior leadership and sacrifice and example-setting, was never necessary.

Pinkston had figured it all out and was already bringing it to the table.

"JayVaughn is what a coach dreams of having in a senior," Wright said yesterday as the Wildcats prepared to face Lafayette on Thursday in Pittsburgh in an NCAA Tournament East Regional game. "He came in as a McDonald's All-American - a leading scorer but a little undisciplined and not fully mature.

"Now he's playing as a disciplined, intelligent leader on and off the court. He takes much more pride in winning and leading than he does in any individual accolades. It's really been enjoyable to watch his growth."

Perhaps Wright shouldn't be so surprised. When he was recruiting Pinkston out of Bishop Loughlin High in the Bronx, the things his mother, Kerry, stressed to Wright that she wanted for her son did not involve him growing as a basketball player.

She wanted JayVaughn to earn his degree and grow as a man and a person. Kerry Pinkston never strayed from that message each time she spoke to Wright.

Fast-forward from 2010 to 2015 and, instead of an 18-year-old kid, Pinkston is a 23-year-old man.

His experiences at Villanova have run the gamut from having to sit out his freshman year due to a university code-of-conduct violation to cutting down the net at Madison Square Garden on Saturday as the Wildcats secured a No. 1 seed by claiming the school's second Big East Tournament championship.

All of the stuff that has gone on before is called growing up.

It's what we hope our kids will do when we send them to college - to learn, grow and evolve from the things that occur in their lives.

"A roller coaster," is how Pinkston describes his time at Villanova. "From coming in and getting in trouble, to sitting out, to going 13-19 my first season playing, to being the second overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"Definitely it's been a roller coaster, but just a great experience, the best of my life. This is family, a brotherhood. Nobody here is better than anyone else."

A lot of players say things like that, but living up to it is another matter.

That's what Wright did not have to say to Pinkston last summer. That's what he already knew.

This was going to be a different Villanova squad - one that was not going to need him to average 14.1 points and take 307 shots.

The payoff was that this was going to be a better Villanova team, one that could produce a 32-2 record, win the Big East title and be a serious contender for the NCAA championship.

Pinkston said the goal for his senior year was to reach the Final Four and, if that meant shaving nearly 100 shots and having his scoring average dip to 9.6, so be it.

Those sacrifices would allow him to become more of a defensive presence for the Wildcats and better help them get to where they want to go.

"JayVaughn has just matured a lot over the years," said senior guard Darrun Hilliard. "It's not something where he just made this big change going into his senior season.

"He's one of the best players and leaders on the team, and when your best players buy into what you are doing as much as they can, it's easy for the other guys to follow."

Once Villanova had vanquished Xavier to win the Big East Tournament, Wright - with the consent of the team - decided that Pinkston would be the player who would make the final cut of the championship net and remove it from the rim.

"I've been here 5 years," Pinkston said. "I've seen the good and the bad. I think coach has a sense of pride in me.

"It was truly a special moment. I was just honored. To be able to cut that net down in front of my family and hometown crowd was very emotional.

"It's something special to be a part of this great program. I knew I had to come in with a different focus. My first 3 years, I was just trying to be a leading scorer.

"This year it was just focusing on being a leader and helping to lead this team in the right direction. When you keep winning, everything will come your way - all the good will come."

Sometime after Villanova is done in the NCAA Tournament - no matter how far the Wildcats go - Wright will likely have that beer with Pinkston.

They'll talk about a lot of things, but Wright really won't have to ask that question about what changed in Pinkston.

He already knows the answer.