Villanova men's basketball team's victory tour continues at Union game
It was yet another stop for the Wildcats, who have ventured all across the Delaware Valley since cutting down the nets in San Antonio a little more than eight weeks ago.
Nine years removed from their inaugural season, the Union have never won a trophy. Other than a pair of U.S. Open Cup runner-up finishes, the Union have never advanced past the MLS Cup quarterfinals.
Nonetheless, there were champions in the building Wednesday night.
The Villanova men's basketball team's victory tour continued as the reigning national champions made the trek to Chester, being honored on the field prior to the Union's matchup with the Chicago Fire. It was yet another stop for the Wildcats, who have ventured all across the Delaware Valley since cutting down the nets in San Antonio a little more than eight weeks ago.
"[The last couple of months] have been awesome with all the excitement from the community, family and friends," guard Phil Booth said. "It's just been a good time enjoying the moment of winning a national championship."
Even if the Wildcats were a little bit out of their element on the pitch rather than the hardwood, they certainly looked the part. Each donned a custom Union jersey with "Wildcats" and the number 18 on back along with a scarf, and they were greeted with a hearty round of applause right before kickoff.
Of course, the highlight event of their last two months came during the Sixers' playoff run. Before Meek Mill rang the bell prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, it was the Wildcats who were slated to do the honors.
Still, it was a moment to remember, even with two titles in the last three seasons.
"The Sixers game was real cool," forward Eric Paschall said. "We got to go on the court, wave to everybody, Meek Mill just got out of jail that day."
But even in victory, there are consequences. Although Villanova had known for a while that both Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson would be leaving early, plenty of salt was added to the wound this weekend when both Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman forfeiting their remaining years of eligibility.
The absence of the four was noticeable when the group of eight Wildcats stepped onto the field Wednesday. Just two starters will return next season and more than 70 percent of the team's scoring offense will have to be replaced.
That just means the work starts earlier in their quest to repeat.
"Seeing Mikal, Jalen, Donte, and Omari chase their dreams, that's great," Paschall said. "I'm happy for them and I know that's a tough process to go through. It's a lot coming off their shoulders, but I'm just glad for them.
"We've got a whole new group. …We can't change [our approach] knowing that we won a championship. We're just going to do what we do every day and that's to play Villanova basketball."
As individuals, though, roles will be different. Paschall and Booth will be the only upperclassmen in the rotation, and even with the development of scorers like Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Rountree – both who joined in the festivities at the Union game – the pair is expected to the Wildcats' definitive leaders.
"It's different," Booth said. "We lost a lot of guys I've played with. We've got a whole new team, a lot younger team, so it's going to be different, so I'll have Eric with me and we'll have to do a good job getting these guys ready. … We're going to have to be focused and concentrate even throughout the summer.
"Winning the first championship was different. At 'Nova, we hadn't won it [in a long time], so we didn't know how to handle it. But now this year, we've got a new team and we know what comes with being champions."