Jay Wright’s Our Man

Editor Hobart RowlandWhen MLT’s editorial team decided to feature Villanova University men’s basketball coach Jay Wright on the cover of our biggest issue of the year, it elicited a few audible groans from other departments. Didn’t the Wildcats underachieve this year? This is the Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs issue, after all. What’s “best” about Nova’s unceremonious first-round exit from the NCAA tourney?

Our response: When you assess Wright’s full body of work, and what it’s meant to Villanova and our area in general, it doesn’t seem like such a rash decision. The Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 in 2005 and ’08, the Elite Eight in 2006, and the Final Four in 2009. While the end of last season was an acknowledged mess, the team began the year 16-1, and Wright’s 2012 recruiting class gives fans something to look forward to.

“Villanova didn’t close this season well, but the best thing about Jay was how he handled everything,” says Michael Bradley, who wrote our cover story on Wright. “Not once did he blame injuries; he never singled out a player who didn’t contribute or couldn’t perform at crucial times. He took the brunt. And when I talked to him about the rough stuff being said about him, he offered no defense. ‘It comes with the territory,’ he said.”

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A sports writer and analyst for the NFL Network, Sporting News Radio, 97.5 The Fanatic/950 ESPN and other outlets, Bradley also interviewed Phillies pitcher Ryan Madson for this issue and weighed in with his own Best of the Main Line picks. A native Main Liner and Broomall resident, Bradley has known Wright for seven years. “The interesting thing about him is that he tries to stay somewhat low-key,” says Bradley. “He isn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He has a self-deprecating style and an easy way that welcomes others into his orbit.”

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Walking around Villanova’s campus with Wright is “an experience,” says Bradley. “Everybody wants a piece of him, and he doesn’t mind doling out the portions. Even if it’s just a little smile or a hello, he’s aware that people appreciate it. He appreciates it, too.”

As for those Villanova fans still angry about last season’s early tournament exit, “they need to remember where the program was when he got it,” says Bradley. “It wasn’t a Final Four team or a top-10 outfit. It was struggling; it was losing local recruits to Temple and Saint Joseph’s universities—and everybody who didn’t graduate from the school loved it.”

Since taking over as Villanova’s head coach in 2001, Wright has built a program that’s only grown stronger. “He’s taken something with plenty of promise and tradition, and made it bigger,” says Bradley. “Rollie [Massimino] won the title in 1985 and built the Pavilion. Wright has brought that into the 21st century.”

And he’s looked damn good doing it, too.

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