LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jay Wright was the head coach at Hofstra - "a Philly guy learning the New York basketball scene," he recalls - when he met Bronx native Jim Larranaga, beginning a friendship that has lasted more than 20 years.
Wright went from Hofstra to Villanova. Larranaga went from Bowling Green to George Mason to Miami. Over the years, the men have played golf together, run into each other on the road recruiting and exchanged ideas about coaching.
"We shared ideas, but I don't know if I gave him anything. I don't think I did," Wright said Wednesday during a break in preparations for the NCAA South Regional semifinal game Thursday night against Larranaga's Hurricanes at the KFC Yum! Center.
"He gives his players red, yellow and green in terms of how they're allowed to shoot. It's a system. We don't use the colors, but I use the philosophy. There's a number of drills he gave me, where you put time on the clock, how many three-pointers you can make in that time period. But we've stolen a lot of drills."
They've also gone after a lot of the same high school players such as Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, who eventually went to Villanova, and former Neumann-Goretti star Ja'Quan Newton, who chose Miami.
Larranaga, who coached George Mason to the 2006 Final Four, is a fan of Wright.
"I've known Jay a very, very long time," he said. "We've been on trips together, and we've sat together at AAU events. I think he's just a tremendous individual, a great coach. I've enjoyed getting to know him and exchanging drills with him and talking basketball."
So, when you consider that Villanova (31-5) and Miami (27-7) are virtually mirror images of each other, it's as much coaching philosophy as it is style of play. The Wildcats shoot more threes, and the Hurricanes get to the line more. But it all starts for both teams with their guards.
For the Cats, the principal worry is Miami's tandem of fifth-year seniors Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez. Big Five fans may remember Rodriguez when he played on the Kansas State team that lost to La Salle in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Wright called them "as good a guard combo as you're going to find, and we've played some good ones."
"What's interesting about those two is, Rodriguez can make plays at any time for himself, and he can also make plays for anybody on that team," he said. "McClellan is as dominant a scorer in transition as he is the half-court. Usually guys are a little bit better in one area or the other. He is dominant in both areas."
The Wildcats also rely on their guards, who knocked down most of the team's 23 three-point baskets in the first two NCAA games. Senior Ryan Arcidiacono leads the team in the NCAAs with six threes.
"They've just done a great job," Larranaga said. "Their style of play, I think, is very inviting to high school recruits. They do a lot of ball screens. They play multiple defenses. We think we're very similar."
Wright and Larranaga will put their friendship on hold for about two hours Thursday night with an Elite Eight berth at stake. For Wright, who has declared more than once that he dislikes coaching against his friends, it's what happens this deep into the tournament.
"When you get to the Sweet 16, final eight, Final Four, that kind of goes away, I don't know why," he said. "You're so focused on what you do, you're so happy to be there. Usually, when you get to this point it's guys you either know or guys you've really looked up to. And Jim is both."