Coach Resource: Recruting – Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright

Paul Biancardi, ESPN (

You were an assistant at Villanova under Rollie Massimino in the late 80’s and early 90’s. How much has changed in recruiting since that time?

It’s changed incredibly, because back then there were no limits on how much you could go out and recruit. We were literally recruiting every day, and with Coach Massimino he wanted you out somewhere all the time. When [the NCAA] put limitations on the number of days you could go out, it definitely saved some of our marriages (laughs). But back then it was more the high school coaches, kids coming to your school camp, and there were only a few exposure camps. You could find guys back then the other coaches didn’t know about. Today that’s very difficult to do.

How has the type of player Villanova recruits changed, if at all?

We have come full circle. When I was here with Coach Mass we always looked for and tried to land high-skilled but also high-basketball IQ guys, because we had so many plays, had different defense, and we changed defenses during the game and during the possession. You almost had to be a Rhodes’ scholar to play for him. Back then guys were picking the school for basketball and academics, because everyone was in school for four years.

When I went on to Hofstra, we had a lot of New York City kids, and we became successful with those guys and they won a ton of games for us, so I became very comfortable with that when I came back to Villanova.

We then went on to recruit Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye and Jason Fraser because toughness and competitiveness was so important when you were going up against the likes of UConn, St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse. Especially back in the 2000s, if you weren’t physical, you couldn’t survive. Freedom of movement rules have changed the game.

Though your program has been a fixture in the national conversation for years, some people might forget that it took until your fourth season at Villanova (2004-05) to reach the NCAA tournament. Looking back, was there one recruit or one class who you think represented the turning point for your program?

Definitely. We got the job late in the spring of 2001 and we made the decision that we weren’t just going to go pout, and take anyone to fill a roster. I had confidence that we had a patient administration, and we were fortunate that Steve Lappas left us a pretty good team to coach. Steve did sign some [incoming freshmen] but they did not fit our program, and we told them they could still come on scholarship and earn playing time, but I did not see that happening.

So our philosophy was to spend all of our time on the next class –– Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter, Jason Fraser and Baker Dunleavy. And we told those five guys we were going to build this program with them — we knew about all of those guys from our days at Hofstra. They took a leap of faith. They turned it into a winning program — we just honored those guys as 2006 Big East champions, and an Elite 8 team. We struggled with those guys early but they finished strong, and that was the plan. The recruiting class was ranked as high as No. 2, and Jason Fraser was the highest-rated recruit but he had seven surgeries and he never had a chance to fully develop. Sumpter was tabbed player of the year from New York City coming out of high school, and Allan Ray was highly rated. Both had great careers, but Randy Foye had the longest NBA career. Foye didn’t attend the big camps or travel much outside of Northeast [as a recruit].

When the Big East split, there may have been some who questioned whether Villanova or the ‘new Big East’ schools could continue to recruit the type of players needed to compete for national titles. Did you ever question the implications of conference realignment for your program?

I probably was in the biggest panic, along with John Thompson III, because we had come up through the glory days of the Big East. John watched his dad all through the years, and me with Rollie Massimino, I watched the league’s growth to 16 teams in 2005, and that was scary but we made it through. In 2011, with 11 teams in the NCAA tournament we were rolling and then, bam! It all changed, and I was in a panic. Now, I was wrong. I am amazed at who we are able to get involved with and actually get. The FOX [television] deal allows every recruit to see us, which is huge. They know who we are.

Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are two former ESPN 100 players who have been at Villanova all four years and have a chance to do something historic. What do you remember about those two players as recruits, and what have you learned about them over their four years on the Main Line?

What’s interesting is those two were high-level recruits that [still] did not get the hype I thought they deserved. Ochefu went to a small private school [Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania] and did not get media attention, but college coaches knew about him and most big-time programs wanted him. Now Westtown has a bunch of talent and is a well-known school. Ryan was in line to be a McDonald’s all-American — I remember how Florida and Billy Donovan wanted him bad — but he hurt his back the summer before his senior year so that took him out of the spotlight. We lucked out, because we landed two high-level kids who started from Day 1. Others were surprised [at their talent], but we weren’t.

After four years with them, I’ve learned they are two of the greatest competitors that I have ever been around — not just coached. Ochefu is the greatest competitor from the forward spot that I’ve ever coached, and Arch is on a level of competitiveness with [NBA all-star guard and former Wildcat] Kyle Lowry. When Lowry comes back in the summer and plays against Arch, it is a legitimate bloodbath of great respect. It’s no love, no fun and games. Both are outrageous competitors.

Another thing I learned about Arch that I have known, but saw again the other day on senior night, I never had a player so proud to wear a Villanova uniform from Day 1. His parents went to Villanova. He grew up watching Villanova, watching Randy Foye and Allan Ray, It’s like a kid growing up and in North Carolina and watching Michael Jordan. He puts on that Villanova uniform with such great respect, and it taught me to value that in my evaluation of players. I noticed that pride over the years, and it help shape our recruiting efforts. In fact, there are guys in our program now because of what I learned and witnessed firsthand from Ryan. I want to have guys that feel fortunate to be here, as opposed to the guy who feels that you are fortunate that he is there.

What two traits do you value most in the evaluation process?

Competitiveness, because we have to know if a kid loves to compete. Regardless of the score of the game, we want to see if a prospect is going to compete the whole game. The other is respect.

We look at how a kid respects his coaches, teachers, teammates and all people. What do they say about their coaches? Is it positive or negative? Do they get fired up when their teammates do something well?

What rule in recruiting would you change today, if any?

I think we are going in a good direction with our rule changes, because there is so much information on the recruiting process it’s getting to be like free agency in a positive way. Recruits can find out who is in your program, who the NBA likes, who we are recruiting, almost everyone is on some kind of TV — they don’t have to rely on the schools and coaches for the information. Players and families are much more informed. There are less surprises.

I have also had an issue with summer recruiting, because the kids are so tired by the end of July. I like the idea of making August a complete dead period, for the good of the game and recruiting.

When you recruit prospects who are one-and-done types and are also considering the blue bloods of college basketball, what is your message?

That they are great programs and coaches. Right now, you should know if you are a true one-and-done before you commit to go there, because you have the proper information and those guys [head coaches of traditional blue-blood programs] know if you are a one-and-done because they deal with this on a regular basis. If you are not sure that you are a lock one-and-done, and you want to develop into a pro — because we both know you have the potential and really care about your education — then we are the spot.

 Again, if you are a lock for the draft you should go to one of those schools because they are great at putting you on that track. I would never turn away a one-and-done but the truth is when you come here, it’s a complete buy-in. When you go against those schools you know what the kid’s plans are, and I respect that plan — for the right prospects.

When a recruit and his family take the time to learn about our program, someone who has aspirations to be a long-time professional player and finish their education as well as be a part of our program off the court [is a fit here]. I want them to be pros, but if they think there is another avenue to get them where they want to be, they should take it.

Darrun Hilliard (currently with the Pistons), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Randy Foye (Thunder) all believed, and it worked.

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