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April 1, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the head coach of the Villanova Wildcats, Jay Wright.
Coach Wright is ready for your questions.
Q. Transfers get a lot of attention at this time of the year. A couple of questions I wondered if you could help me with. Do you have any policies regarding players transferring out of your program and where they might be allowed to go? The second part of that is, college basketball, college sports, do you think it would benefit from standardized NCAA rules?
COACH WRIGHT: Standardized NCAA rules regarding transfers?
Q. Regarding transfers.
COACH WRIGHT: Well, first, we don't have any policies with transfers. We try to treat every player as an individual, as a unique human being, the guys in our program and the guys that we would be looking to bring in as a transfer. So we really don't have any policy. We are willing to look at every possible situation, more based on the individual himself and his family.
Standardized rules, I would probably be informed enough right now when all I'm thinking about is Oklahoma, I'm not deep into this. What I would probably be most informed to say is, the players do have the right to choose where they want to play, just like we all as coaches have the right to go where we want to coach.
Even though it hurts us and it hurts the game a little bit, giving the players that individual freedom, and the student-athletes, is probably more important.
Q. You're used to zone defense. You've kind of been hesitant over the years, if that's the right word to use, but you're using it this year. Why sort of that change philosophically? What does Oklahoma do that makes it difficult to use that zone defense?
COACH WRIGHT: I've had coaches that I really respect over the last few years, Billy Lange, my assistant, Baker Dunleavy, my assistant, Coach Massimino, Larry Brown, tell me, You got to use some zone. Because I thought it took away our aggressiveness.
Larry Brown convinced me to at least do it so you're good enough that you can practice against it. That started a few years ago when he was with us. We would use it in practice a lot.
But as we did it in practice, I started to find ways we could still remain aggressive in it. That's why we're using it now. It's taken me a while to learn how we can be aggressive.
To answer your question about Oklahoma, the range that they can shoot the ball with, they play so far outside the three-point line that even though you're in a zone, you got to go out and guard them, and it makes you play man-to-man. You can say you're in a zone, but you got to go out there to get them. If you go out to get them, you're man-to-man. They just spread you out so much.
Q. Have you had a guy this year, where the scouting report like Buddy, has as much attention has been given to him? Has anybody gotten as much attention in the scouting record as Hield?
COACH WRIGHT: The guys that have gotten the attention like he has are Kris Dunn, Isaiah Whitehead, Ben Bentil. What's unique about Buddy is I think he moves without the basketball at a speed and with a level of intelligence that no one else that we've played against does. I think that's what's going to make him a great pro.
A lot of times the great college players have the ball in their hands all the time. He's so good not just coming off screens without the ball, but he gets himself spaced away from the ball and he lulls you to sleep, he stands still. Then the burst of speed with which he comes back behind the ball, you just don't play against anybody like that.
We tried to have Eric Paschall simulate that when we were back home, then Donte DiVincenzo. Watching it, they do a great job, but it's just not the same.
Q. Fighting for the respect coming in, now you play Kansas, there's a lot of focus on Buddy. Do you still feel your team are battling for a little respect?
COACH WRIGHT: I really don't. I think we've been given the respect we deserve. I think that's one of the great things about college basketball. If you're successful in this tournament, you get respect. If you're not, you don't. We lived through that, too.
It's hard to come here to the Final Four, the great job that the NCAA does promoting the teams and the players individually. We haven't been here since '09 obviously, but the change in how they promote the players, all the great things they do for the players. I'm more worried we're getting a little too much respect. I want to keep us humble.
Q. Do you remember where you were in '85 watching Villanova do what they did, what you might have taken from watching them?
COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, that was probably the most inspirational moment of my coaching career, even though at that point I was a very young coach. I was the assistant coach at the University of Rochester, Division III school. I was also the assistant intermural director. I was in Lexington for the semifinals. That was my first Final Four ever as a part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. It was overwhelming just to see all the big-time coaches.
I had to go back on Monday night because I had to run floor hockey for intermurals because that was my job. I set up the floor hockey. The guys who played floor hockey really didn't care about the national championship game. I went to the women's soccer coach's house, I was single then, I was living in Rochester by myself, Terry Gurnett, I sat on his floor and watched that game.
I had watched Villanova's basketball camps with Coach Massimino. He was my idol. To see a team make a dream come true like that, overachieve, it was magical. Watching that, you say as a coach, I would love to be able to do it, never thinking you would be able to do it at Villanova.
But to coach and take a team to a championship against all odds, even if it's a league championship, it's something I always dreamed about.
I think about it every day. I talked to Coach Massimino 10 minutes ago. Every time I talk to him, that's what I think about.
Q. What do you do to keep your team up and positive when things aren't going your way?
COACH WRIGHT: That's a great question. We wear these attitude bracelets right here. I'll give you one if you come up and see me afterwards. We have it on the wall in our practice facility. There's not a lot of things on our wall, but that's up there.
We want our guys to understand in basketball that what you control is your attitude. You don't control whether your shot goes in or the referee's calls, but you control your attitude on the next play.
We wanted them to take that into life, that things are going to happen to you in life that you can't control. But you can control every morning when you wake up, what is your attitude going to be. Can you have a positive attitude?
It's probably the biggest core value in our program.
Q. You played Oklahoma back in December. They won. What have you made the biggest the changes in that you think is going to allow you to win now, what is the biggest change that you think is going to allow you to win?
COACH WRIGHT: You know what, I think we've become a team closer to the team that we saw in Hawaii, the Oklahoma team. As soon as that game started, we could see that these guys are dialed in defensively, connected defensively, they share the ball offensively, and they have great shot selection.
We were not good in any of those four areas at that time. Just had young guys. But we've always used that game and the respect for Oklahoma to keep trying to improve. But even as we got better, we would say to ourselves, Okay, this is working here, but they're still a No. 3, 2 team in the country, and they're getting better at it, too. We have to continue to get better in those areas.
I think we have gotten better. I think this game is going to be about how much better have they gotten, how much better have we gotten, how close are we now.
Q. Everybody talks about your shoot 'em up guards who spread the floor out, make it tough on the defense. A guy I'm enamored with is your guy down low, Ochefu. Can you expand on him and how important he is.
COACH WRIGHT: He's really been the key. We've always had great guards. Great guards can win a lot of games for you. You're not going to win in the tournament without great guards.
But if you're ever going to have a chance to win a national championship, you better have a big guy that can control the paint, defensively protect the rim, offensively be a go-to guy that can score, make good decisions, meaning not turn the ball over, and make free throws. That's what Daniel Ochefu is.
He's the guy. Even at the end of the year in the Big East tournament, he was injured, didn't play. We were okay. We were okay. Once he got healthy the start of this tournament, we were a different team.
He's really the key to our run. We've always told big guys, I'll give you a little recruiting pitch right here, You want to come and play with these great guards, if you're with great guards, they're going to get you the ball and they're not going to double-team you and you're going to be able to score.
He came for those reasons, he gets it. I just think he's been the key to our success.
Q. I don't know if you've had any Darryl Reynolds questions, but we'll stay on the big-man theme. Lower Merion is right around the corner from you, but he was getting no recruiting from anybody in his high school years. When did you get involved? What did you see? What have you seen?
COACH WRIGHT: We got involved with him late. We saw him in high school. Funny story. They played, Lower Merion played Chester at Villanova for the district championship. Larry Brown was with us back then. We were sitting watching the game together. There were all these great players, the lefty that went to Arizona, Rondae Jefferson was in the game. Larry Brown said, I like that guy. He pointed to Darryl Reynolds. I just like that guy's body.
I said, Yeah, you're right.
We kind of looked into him. They said he's going to prep school. From that point we started following him in prep school.
He is a great teammate, really intelligent in terms of how he approached his career. He's a really good player right now. He's just playing behind Daniel Ochefu. He's going to be a really good player for us next year.
He's a classic example. If you're intelligent, you work hard, you're patient, your time will come. I couldn't be happier for anybody on our team.
Q. Lots of questions yesterday about depth perception on the elevated court in the big arena. There is some evidence that shooting percentages go down. Is that aspect of it over blown? Are there enough other aspects that you really feel are part of the equation?
COACH WRIGHT: First thing, I thought we had an advantage there. I heard Buddy Hield say, I play outside all the time in The Bahamas, so it's the same for me.
I thought, Damn, that was a good answer. He was smart about that.
We always played in the dome in Syracuse. I think the way the NCAA has it set up this year, we played at Ford Field in '09. I don't remember if we got three days in there. I thought yesterday's practice was really vital. At the beginning you could see we were a little off. But by the end of practice, I thought everybody was comfortable.
We'll get in there again after this. Then we get in there again tomorrow. I really think by tomorrow night, everybody's going to be fine, I really do.
Once you get in there for a while, it's going to make you comfortable.
Q. Jay, in what way has Daniel improved, elevated his game over the course of his career to get to this point where you're saying he arguably could be one of your most important players?
COACH WRIGHT: When you have a big guy like that, everybody tells you, You got to go to the big guy, you got to go to the big guy. The big guy tells you that, too. I got to get the ball.
If you go to a big guy, and he turns the ball over sometimes, and when he gets fouled he makes one out of two, all right, it's not efficient.
You go to the big guys when they don't turn the ball over, and they shoot a high percentage, and they make free throws. Then it's really valuable. It's taken him three years to get to that point.
At the end of last year, he started to get there. But all this year, that's a real valuable big guy. If you look at the NBA right now, there aren't a lot of guys like that. Dwight Howard, he was one of the best. But he still doesn't shoot free throws. At the end of the game, you can't go to him.
We'll inbound the ball to Daniel Ochefu at the end of the game and get him fouled. We have confidence with Daniel on the foul line. That's a really valuable player. There just aren't many players like that in college basketball. He has developed into that guy.
Q. You have one McDonald's All-American, Oklahoma has none. What does that tell you about recruiting?
COACH WRIGHT: Oklahoma has how many?
COACH WRIGHT: Okay. I thought you said 'nine'.
Yeah, I think what you're seeing this year in college basketball, it's a unique year. Last night we had an event, CBS had an event, where Buddy Hield, Michael Gbinije, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Marcus Paige represented their teams, four seniors. Experienced veteran guys that have developed into great players. I really think that's the theme of this Final Four.
It's great for college basketball. Some years you see a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans that are freshmen and sophomores that just happen to be good enough to bring their teams here. That's good, too.
I don't think you have to pick one or the other. I think it's great that we have a year like this. You got those four guys leading their teams, four-year guys, veteran guys who really have been coached and developed. I think all four of them are going to be very good pros because of their experience and maturity. I think you're going to see a great tournament because of the experience of these teams.
Q. Being a Philly guy, in tune with the city's basketball heritage, you guys are obviously one of the best teams in college basketball this year. The Sixers have been a little less successful in recent years. Do you sense from the mood of the city whether there's a thirst for some championship basketball and given an extra boost to the fan base pull for you guys?
COACH WRIGHT: Definitely. More so than usual. In '09 when we came here, when we came to the Final Four, you could feel the city got behind us.
Philly is a unique city. There's six Division I basketball schools. It's not like being in a state where you have two state schools. We're all on top of each other. There's a lot of mixed breeding. It's an intense college basketball town. It's hard for everybody to get behind one of the schools.
But it's a pro town, too. So because of the recent last couple years, they've been saying it all year, everybody's been putting pressure on us saying, Hey, you guys are Philly's hope. Do you feel the pressure?
We really never felt the pressure. We can definitely feel it now. There's buildings in Philadelphia that have the lights going across the top, Nova Final Four. It's pretty cool. We would love to do it. We would love to do it for Philly.
We'd love to bring a championship home to Philly. We have to get past Oklahoma first. We can't even talk about that yet.
Q. It's been documented that your career at Villanova didn't get off to the best start. Three hard years there. You went into the fourth year with some career pressure. Do you have any advice for young coaches who are maybe going through that right now who are going to enter next season with perhaps that same kind of pressure?
COACH WRIGHT: Well, I would say to a coach, Identify where the pressure is coming from. There was definitely a lot of pressure from the outside, from fans, alumni, the media. One of my friends, Dana O'Neil, was our beat writer. I remember sitting down at breakfast. She said, You know what I have to write, right?
I said, Yeah, I know.
She said, This is it. You could get fired at the end of the year.
I said, I know you got to do it.
From our administration, from our president, Father Dobbin at the time, Vince Nicastro, the AD, there was none. I knew it. I knew I had to answer to it publicly. They had told me, We love what you're doing.
For any coach, communicate with the athletic director and your president. If they're okay, you're good. If the media says you're good and they don't say you're good, you better be careful. That's really the key.
Q. Villanova met Oklahoma early in the season, and unfortunately fell to them. I'm wondering, what has the team done since then to make sure those are not the results of tomorrow's game?
COACH WRIGHT: I think we learned a lot from Oklahoma. They were the team we wanted to be. They were connected defensively. They were unselfish offensively. They had intelligent shot selection. It was a great barometer for us all through the season.
We had a lot of success during the season. We won our league championship. But we were always looking at that game and saying, Okay, we won this league championship, but those guys are still out there. We're not that good yet.
So in one sense I'd rather not play them because I know how good they are. But in another sense, it's the perfect either ending for our season or next step because we're going to see how much we've improved. Because that was the team that really got us, and we looked up to all year.
Q. Daniel just said it's been easy to stay focused because he's seen the inside of the bus, the inside of the hotel, the inside of the arena. You've kept him pretty much on the straight and narrow. Is there anything about this Final Four, this process this year, that is unique from years past?
COACH WRIGHT: It's very different. After we lost to North Carolina last time, I've told these guys, I kind of apologized to the team to how we approached it. We took a lot of responsibility as a staff. We've actually discussed it with these guys during the season.
I always said, If we ever get there again, it's not about enjoying the moment and the trip and all that because once you lose the game, there's no enjoyment. You're there to play the game.
I said, If we ever get the chance, we're going to stay focused, not let the distractions get to us, even though the distractions are positive. We've done that so far. I think that's the challenge of this tournament. If you can stay focused on basketball.
When these guys go into the hotel, what the NCAA has done at our hotel is beautiful. There are huge, bigger-than-lifestyle pictures of these guys all over the wall. You're 18, 20 years old, you walk in and see that, it can get to your head.
So we've really done a good job of staying focused so far. We had a great practice this morning. Got to get through this today. This is part of our responsibility, have a good practice out there. Then we're going to lock down again, get ready to play.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. We'll continue with questions.
Q. Jay, was it immediately after that loss to Carolina in '09 that you thought you needed to do things differently? Did it take a couple months or years, any perspective before you realized that you wanted a second opportunity to do it a little differently?
COACH WRIGHT: It was in the middle of the game. I was in the middle of the game. You're standing up there on a stage in front of everybody. You could just see the focus in Carolina. I think they were there the year before, I'm not sure. You could see the focus in those guys. You could see our guys were just playing a game. I knew. It was about 10 minutes into the game. I knew. I was like, I didn't get these guys ready.
Obviously Roy had been there many times. They were ready. They were playing on a completely different level than we were. We were there to play a fun game in front of a big crowd.
So that's when I knew.
Q. In this game tomorrow people are going to get their eyes dazzled with all the three-point shots with Buddy and Ryan. How critical will Daniel be for you tomorrow?
COACH WRIGHT: Very. He's been very critical throughout this tournament for us. As I said earlier, we know we have a weapon. We have a weapon there. They know it. They know it. They defended him well in Hawaii. I think he's gotten a lot better.
As I said earlier, it's a weapon when you can go to a guy that shoots a high percentage, doesn't turn the ball over, if they foul him, goes to the foul line. We want to use him.
Q. Daniel, in what way do you think you improved the most to be able to be, as your head coach just said, maybe the most valuable player on the floor tomorrow night?
DANIEL OCHEFU: Defensively my defensive rebounding. When I was younger, I understood the concept of how important defensive rebounding was, I just wasn't physically able or just didn't have enough experience to do so. Now defensive rebounding keeps me on the court for the most amount of time I can play. When I'm playing with such great guards offensively, it's easy to catch the ball and go dunk or lay it up.
Definitely my defense has evolved and my rebounding has evolved as well. Coach Wright is very confident keeping me on the court when I'm not tired, knowing that's the first thing on my mind.
Q. Jay, late in the season you used Darryl and Daniel together. It seems like a lot more than earlier. Other than Daniel's health, what has led to that? What do you like about going big like that?
COACH WRIGHT: It's really been Daniel's health. We wanted to do that from day one. We actually tried it in the Virginia game a little bit when we played at Virginia. Then when Daniel was sick and injured, there was some of the games we were playing him three, four minutes, getting what we could out of him, then playing Darryl.
But at this time of year, when you play against these bigger teams that have great offensive rebounders, that's what I like about the tournament, having both of them. They're both smart enough offensively.
As we talked about with Daniel, Darryl is doing the same thing now. Darryl makes free throws, he doesn't turn the ball over, he shoots a high percentage.
He just started to do that halfway through this year. He's just developed. A lot of his development comes from playing against Daniel every day.
Against these better rebounding teams like Oklahoma, we like doing that.
Q. Jay, when you have four guys who have triple-digit number of college games they've played, what are some specific things that are easier about day-to-day coaching?
COACH WRIGHT: That's the point that's most important. It's day-to-day. These guys are veterans. They come in every day prepared to work, never taking a day off.
Every scouting report, we're on our 39th game, I believe, these guys are so dialed in on this scouting report. They demand it of everybody else. They know how to rest. They know how to eat properly. They set an example for everybody.
The greatest thing about the seniors, is they experienced failure as freshmen, then fought through it to finish the year in the NCAA tournament, then a lot of success after that.
It's really like having coaches on the floor and coaches in the locker room and coaches back in the dorm. It's really valuable.
Q. Obviously any team that gets to a certain point, you want them to be at their best, whether it's baseball or whatever. How do you feel your team is right now prepared to enter this semifinal game?
COACH WRIGHT: I think if I compared this team to any of our other teams that have made runs, I think this team is best positioned, given all the variables, to be playing their best basketball right now, better than we've played at any other time during the year.
A lot of it's because of Daniel's health. A lot of it is because we have younger guys that have gotten better, played a lot of big games. A lot of times there are variables that affect that. You might be playing great, but one of your best players is injured, so you're not playing your best.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, can you take that from your perspective as well, from a student-athlete.
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: What was the question again?
THE MODERATOR: At this time of year, do you feel the team is playing the best that it has?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Yeah, I think we were playing well coming into the Big East tournament. We didn't start the game off strong against Seton Hall. I think that was a big wake-up call for us. We got back to work after that week.
We've just been getting better every single day in practice. In the games, too, we've just improved on the little things.
Hopefully, like coach said, we got better today and hopefully we can carry it into tomorrow.
Q. Coach, you talked about doing it differently this time than before. Is there something specific that you denied or didn't allow your players to do that you probably would have a few years back for this particular trip?
COACH WRIGHT: The basic concept is I talked to them last time about enjoy the experience, you know, spend time with your family, spend time with your friends, go out and see everything. Just take it all in.
Then when we get together for our meetings and our film sessions, we'll shut it down and we'll concentrate.
I had no idea when I said that how big it all was. That was seven years ago.
It's significantly bigger now. So when we got together, we were all trying. We just couldn't get back focused again. So this time we're just trying to stay together, eat all our meals together, stay in our rooms together.
We got here early, hung out in the locker room together, rather than hanging out with our family and friends, taking everything in. We're here to play a basketball game Saturday. Let's make sure we're at our best Saturday. That's what we're trying to do.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank Coach Wright and Daniel and Ryan for joining us here. Wish you luck tomorrow evening.
COACH WRIGHT: Thank you.
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