NEW YORK - For Villanova's Josh Hart, meeting and shaking hands with President Obama was "cool" and attending the ESPY Awards was "huge," the top two perks of winning the national championship.
But Kris Jenkins' legendary game-winning shot and the celebration in Houston were a little more than six months ago. When Wildcats coach Jay Wright, Hart, Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds attended the Big East men's basketball media day Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, exactly one month remained until the start of a new season against Lafayette.
Wright so far is pleased with the way his team has practiced. He said his players are showing great concentration and are learning from their success.
However, until the Wildcats play a game, his constant test is making sure his team stays focused on preparing for a new season. He was reminded of that when he and his three seniors were at the Garden to watch former Cat Daniel Ochefu compete with the Washington Wizards in an NBA preseason game against the New York Knicks.
"Nobody said, 'Good luck this season,' " Wright said. "Everybody was talking to us about the [championship] game. They wanted to take pictures with Kris. That's just part of your challenge for next year. I don't think it's going to end until we play games."
The Wildcats, who have won all three regular-season championships since the Big East was realigned with 10 teams, were a unanimous selection to win it again this season in balloting by league coaches.
Another challenge for the Wildcats is how much their status will add pressure. That might not sink in until their second game, at Purdue, in a matchup of two teams that probably will start the season in the top 10.
"We don't feel it yet," Wright said, "but we haven't had to go into someone's arena as the defending national champion yet. We haven't been in games and been down as defending national champions. So I don't feel it right now.
"All the accolades and the experiences are great, but I think one of the things we've learned . . . we really enjoyed going to Spain [for three exhibition games in August] and just playing basketball together and being together and no one knew who we were. When we get into the gym and practice, I think we're really enjoying that. So I think we're going to be all right."
Hart, named the Big East's preseason player of the year, was busy after the title game. Because he declared for the NBA draft, he had to prepare for the league's combine and for workouts with five teams. He took his name out of the draft on May 24 and returned to the Main Line.
He said the entire team knew on the first day of summer workouts that "everything before that was done and over with."
"Last year's last year," he said. "The guys that we have want to be led and that's the biggest thing. There's no egos. There's no big heads. Everyone's just bought in - competitive, fiery - and that's really helping us focus on this year."
Jenkins was a unanimous selection to the all-Big East first team, where he was joined by Creighton guard Maurice Watson Jr., a product of Boys' Latin High School. Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson was named honorable mention.