By Dan Gelston
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright is a coach on the go. He’s recruiting, strategizing with his staff, even dabbling in TV work.
He’ll do anything to keep busy and try to forget Villanova missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004.
“It’s an empty feeling,” Wright said by phone Thursday night from New Orleans. “But I think it’s going to serve us with some hunger going forward.”
Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009 as part of a run of seven straight tournaments. Not only did that streak end this season, it crashed hard — a 13-19 record for only his second losing record in 11 seasons at Villanova.
The bad news kept coming once the season ended. Junior guard Maalik Wayns decided to forego his final season of eligibility and enter the NBA draft, and fellow junior guard Dominick Cheek has considered following Wayns out the door.
Reports that Cheek has contemplated leaving for the NBA draft raised some eyebrows among anyone who’s seen him play. Cheek has been plagued by inconsistency over three seasons, though the he did lead the Wildcats in 3-pointers made (57) and was second on the team in scoring at 12.5 ppg.
Cheek is not projected by any service to be picked in the two-round draft. He has until April 10 to decide to return to school for next year.
“There’s a lot of extenuating circumstances that I can’t go in to,” Wright said. “I can see on one side where it might not be a good idea. But there are other circumstances for him that would make it a good idea. We’re really trying to work through that right now.”
Wayns’ decision was expected. Wright said Wayns was “very close” to leaving after his sophomore season, but the guard wanted to give it one more real shot at improving his standing. Wright said the Wildcats had thought Wayne was gone until he decided to stick it out and give it one more season to elevate his stock. The 6-foot-2 guard was second team All-Big East and led Villanova in scoring this season at 17.6 points.
“We can tell by his draft status he’s in the same place he was last year,” Wright said. “Knowing that the NBA usually looks down on an older guy, he’s probably going to be more highly-rated coming out this year than he would be next year. That was his thought process and I do support it.”
That could be 30 points a game lost off a 19-loss team, meaning more lean times could loom for Wright.
“We kind of thought it was going to be a rough stretch this past year,” Wright said. “We didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. We also knew if guys left for the draft, it was going to be tough again. I was more concerned about this coming year than I was this last year.”
Wright is throwing his annual Final Four party in New Orleans for the extended Villanova family — and Larry Brown is set to attend. Brown, the well-traveled coach who won NCAA and NBA championships, has long been a regular at Villanova practices and had a baseline seat for about every home game this season. Brown has been linked to the SMU vacancy and has been open about how he would like to return to the sidelines. Brown won the 1988 national championship with Kansas and is spending time with coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks in New Orleans.
“I know he’s got the energy, I know he’s got the respect,” Wright said. “In our business, it’s all about the right fit. I’ve been talking to him more about Kansas. He’s been busting my chops because I picked NC State to upset Kansas and he’s all over me about that.”
Wright is speaking at a coaches clinic, appearing at a luncheon, and will head home Sunday with Brown.
He’s not headed for any other job. Wright and the Wildcats agreed on a long-term extension after the 2009 Final Four run. The length was not revealed.
“I’m going to be there as long as they want me there,” Wright said. “I’m locked in for a long, long time. Let’s leave it at long term.”
That gives him plenty of time to get the Wildcats back on track — something he’s “fired up” to get started.
“The next year is going to be a tough year,” Wright said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. There a lot of guys who have to prove themselves, we have to prove ourselves. But we’re not afraid of it. We’re actually kind of excited about it.”
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