NCAAB

Villanova: NCAA East Regional Press Conference

NCAA Men’s Regional Finals: Boston

Saturday, March 24 2018 | Boston, Massachusetts

Villanova Press Conference: Jay Wright, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman Eric Paschall, Phil Booth

THE MODERATOR: We welcome back the Villanova Wildcats, representing the Big East Conference with a record of 33-4. From my left to right, Head Coach Jay Wright, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, and Phil Booth. We’ll begin with an opening statement from Coach Wright and then questions for the student-athletes.

JAY WRIGHT: First, it feels like we just left here, and it is nice to still be here. The ultimate survive and advance after last night’s game.

Looking at another really physical Big 8 team. Big 8? Big 12, sorry. Showing my age, wow. That’s going to hurt.

These guys, man, we watched film of Texas Tech and West Virginia playing each other, man, it was more physical than our game, but a very well-coached team, very disciplined on both ends of the floor. Can really grind you. Their motion screening action is unique, reminiscent of Bobby Knight’s teams, that you don’t really see that as much anymore.

We worked against it today. It’s kind of tough, you know. There’s not a lot of teams that screen that much. Obviously, a lot of great players — Keenan Evans. When you’re in this tournament, you’re just going to play against great players, and they’ve got a lot of them.

Q. Jalen and Mikal, what is it like to have the freedom to shoot three-pointers whenever you guys are open, taking the shots? I don’t know if you realize this, but you’re like 11 threes away from a record for most threes by a team in a season. What’s it like to have that kind of freedom and confidence in yourselves and your teammates?
JALEN BRUNSON: I think it starts with our confidence we have in each other, the confidence Coach has in it us. We put a lot of time and hard work in the summers and the fall, even during the winter. So Coach has a lot of confidence in us, and we have a confidence in each other to go out there and make shots, no matter where they are.

MIKAL BRIDGES: To add on to that, I feel like we preach defense so much that we have confidence to take some threes, but even if we miss, we don’t worry about that. We know we’re going to go back on the other end, and we’re going to defend and try to get stops.

Q. Phil, since you came back from your injury, did you feel like, when you first came back, you were a little tentative and had to work your way back into both game shape and also having the confidence in where you were? And do you feel you’re at the end of that process now? Do you feel you’re where you want to be?
PHIL BOOTH: Definitely. You know, just playing the games, definitely picks up the game shape, just getting used to the rhythm of the game. I definitely feel very comfortable now on both ends of the floor and understanding of the game and having that rhythm back. Just getting that overall feel for the game has been a lot easier for me to get back. So doing fine with that.

Q. Jalen, this couple weeks, Sister Jean at Loyola is getting a lot of run, but Father Rob, is he underappreciated? What does he do for you guys?
JALEN BRUNSON: Father Rob does a lot for us. Just finds ways to make sure we’re always thinking about each other, day in and day out. It does go unnoticed to the outside, but for us, he means a lot, and we’re just glad — we’re happy we have him.

Q. For any of the players: I’m sure you’ve been asked by family and/or friends since going to Villanova, what is it like to play for Coach Wright? How do you guys usually answer that? Or what’s the first thing you think to say?
PHIL BOOTH: Coach, he demands a lot of you in a good way. He pulls out the best of you. He wants the best out of everyone, so he pushes you to that limit, and he makes you become the best player you can be here. That’s why we all appreciate him for all he does. So just demanding you to be the best you can be.

Q. Mikal, this question is for you: If you could look back on the year that you redshirted, what was that conversation like deciding that you were going to redshirt, and what do you think you learned through that season?
MIKAL BRIDGES: It wasn’t really complicated at all. Coach just brought me in — I think we were in Bethlehem, I think we were, right before a game maybe. And they brought the idea and what it would look like for the future, and it made sense. You know, I was young for my grade. I wasn’t just physically there yet.

So talked to my parents about it. They were with it, too. So we just came to the idea. And looking back on it, I’m happy I did it. I spent a whole year in the weight room just getting stronger. I was still practicing every day. I was playing with a lot of great guys who’s making me better on both ends. I had a lot of extra work. I was just working on my game with Coach Ash.

So just, I think it was a big thing in my life that helped me out probably the most.

Q. Eric, I’d like to get your thoughts on what made you choose to go to Villanova? And how did this change affect your life? And also, what did you think about your dunks last night?
ERIC PASCHALL: Coming to Villanova, I guess, it was just the family atmosphere. Being a part of a family like this, this is a brotherhood. We have a lot of great guys that care for each other. And just that one year out has definitely helped me tremendously defensively. Most of my workouts were on defense. I would probably spend 20 minutes on offense, all the rest on defense. So I definitely did a great job.

The dunk yesterday, just really Coach just tells me to go up strong. That’s all I did.

Q. Jevon Carter and his teammates chased you around for 37 minutes last night. You were all over the place. Want to know how you feel today physically. How are your legs? What do you think you’re going to feel like tomorrow when the game starts?
JALEN BRUNSON: I think I’ll be ready by game time tomorrow. I’m going to rest today. We had a great short practice, got our blood flowing, got a good stretch. We’re just going to recover now and just be ready.

I mean, I feel fine. This late in the season, I mean, everyone’s banged up, but you’ve got to just keep fighting and pushing through.

Q. Jalen and Phil, how does the game that you just went through against West Virginia prepare you for an opponent like Texas Tech? I’m sure it’s kind of an interesting back-to-back opponents.
PHIL BOOTH: The physicality West Virginia played with is the same Texas Tech is going to bring with the length they have on the defensive end. As you saw last night with Konate they really protect the floor, but a lot of guys they had last night with Harris and West, they’re the same with Texas Tech that brings a lot of athleticism as well. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. So a lot of physicality on the defensive end is similar to that.

JALEN BRUNSON: Just to add on that, I think you hit it spot on. They’re very similar. They come from a conference with a lot of athletes, a lot of great coaches, a lot of great defensive schemes. They’re physical. They play hard. I mean, they wouldn’t be in this position if they didn’t do those things. They defend. They rebound, and they do what they do.

Q. This is for Jalen: So Keenan Evans said in the press conference before this that they’re going to try to use their defense to take you guys out of your rhythm since they know that their offense just isn’t on your level. So, Jalen, how can you lead this team offensively while playing a team that’s hungry defensively and continue to get these guys in rhythm?
JALEN BRUNSON: I mean, we’ve just got to be ready to go. We’ve got to do what we do. Texas Tech, they’re going to do what they do and play defense. Play defense the way they play defense and play offense the way they play offense, and we’ve got to do what we do. We have play smart and play with pride, do what we do for 40 minutes. Nothing changes in this game. We’ve got to go out and focus on those things, focus on our core values.

Offensively, we trust each other. It doesn’t matter who’s going to cut, it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, who’s making the plays, we all trust each other, and we just have to play together for 40 minutes.

Q. Phil, being on the National Championship team two years ago and playing a big role, a lot was talked about with Daniel Ochefu, what he gave you guys in the frontcourt. Can you speak to what Omari gives this team.
PHIL BOOTH: He gives us a dimension that a lot of people don’t have, just how great he is on both ends of the floor, which goes unappreciated. You probably saw last night how great he’s become defensively, just guarding ball screens, he’s active. He has a great motor with him, loves the rebound. And on the offensive end, his skill really shows when he shoots the ball. He’s probably one of the most important pieces of this team is what he does for us.

Q. To follow up, Omari, when you came in last year, I know you had the — that gap year, a bit of an interesting situation, but all these veterans always tell us what Villanova basketball is like. Can you explain just like your first taste of Villanova basketball and kind of how it hits you and what playing for Coach Wright has been like from your perspective.
OMARI SPELLMAN: I personally would define Villanova basketball as defending and rebounding and playing hard and together for your teammates. It was just something kind of new to me when I first got here. It was definitely a learning experience and something I had to experience and go through and struggle with at first to be able to finally understand it and be on the same page with these guys and just compete at the highest level with them.

It was definitely good for me not only as a basketball player but as a person.

Q. Eric, you were part of that national title team. That was your first year here redshirting. Kind of how much different is it now kind of being able to contribute to a deep tournament run?
ERIC PASCHALL: It means a lot. Blessed to be here. This is great to be part of a team like this. It’s a great culture, great atmosphere here. It’s just always been a blessing to be here.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we’ll excuse you to the locker rooms. We’ll continue with questions for Coach Jay Wright.

Q. Jay, you end up talking a lot about Jalen’s intangibles, and you’re asked a lot about them, but you don’t pick up National Player of the Year awards just on intangibles. Can you point to some X-and-O things, little things that he’s improved on the most in his three years.
JAY WRIGHT: Man, there’s a lot. I would say, first, his ability to play off the ball where — you’ll see plays where he comes off screens like a two-guard catching to shoot, in transition just catching to shoot threes. Obviously, pick-and-roll decision making. I think he’s elite at being able to score in pick-and-roll, being able to find the roll man and being able to find others.

I think he’s developed his post-up game each year he’s been here better and better. He’s our best low-post player. He can do everything from there. He can score. He can get fouled. He finds his teammates on the perimeter. He’s a great rebounding guard. I just think he’s as complete a basketball player as you can be, even though he’s got the size of a point guard. He can guard every position, and he can really play every position offensively.

Q. We all know about “shoot ’em up, sleep in the streets”, you’ve always given these guys a lot of freedom. But this year the efficiency and the three-point shooting is off the charts. What have you done differently, and how do you explain all the success with the three-point shooting this year?
JAY WRIGHT: I think it’s just been gradual over time. You know, just our emphasis on the three-point shooting. The players — you know, recruiting players that are good shooters when we get them and then working on it. We work on it daily. I think that’s what Jalen was talking about when he said spring, summer, and fall.

Even this deep into the season, we’ll do what we call technique shooting workouts. So it’s just gradually progressed where it’s become a big part of recruiting, a big part of our scheme and also a big part of our development program.

Q. Jay, obviously, Texas Tech is at this stage for the first time ever in their program history. When you got to Villanova, there was more tradition, but you’re still trying to take it to a next level and hit something the program hadn’t been at. Are there any comparisons that you can see with what Texas Tech is doing right now and what you went through at Villanova?
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah, definitely. You can see Chris is building a culture. You can see the steady growth and the buy-in — he’s got seniors coming off the bench that you can tell are very unselfish. You don’t do that unless they’re really bought in to the program. You can tell it’s going to be a long — you can tell. I believe he said Texas Tech was his dream job, like Villanova for me. When you really love where you are, it’s advantageous in selling that to players.

You know, our fourth year or fifth year, we had a team like this that went to the final eight, and it was kind of similar to their team. I think they’re a little bit bigger and maybe better defensively. But I could just see he’s got a really strong culture going forward, and he’s got young guys that are in it, too, that are going to continue to grow it. I think this is a long-term thing. I don’t think this is a flash in the pan for Texas Tech.

Q. Jay, coaches like to say that you learn a lot by losing. You guys haven’t done a whole lot of that the last couple of years. So absent that adversity, how do you make sure that they continue to get better and work?
JAY WRIGHT: It’s actually easy to learn from losing. It really is. Because you’re humbled, and you’re smacked in the face, and you’re faced with decisions, do you want to get better? Do you want to compete or not? It’s hard to continue to learn from winning, and it’s something that we really work hard at, number one, in the kind of guys we recruit. We try to get intelligent guys that have some humility. I think they’re the two characteristics that allow you to continue to learn even when you’re winning, that you’re not just evaluating yourself by the results of the game but you’re evaluating yourselves on higher standards.

But you’ve got to be pretty humble and intelligent to do that, and I think we’ve been really lucky with the guys we get, that they’ve been doing that. Humility is something you’ve got to work at every day. So we’ve been lucky that those guys work at that.

Q. Jay, in a lot of ways, a rough year for college basketball in the headlines and stuff. What I wanted to ask you was like going back to the beginning for you, why college basketball? Why this level of coaching? And why, given some of those outside things, why do you stay in it? And what, if any, part is the March experience for you? What part is that, if at all? But why this level?
JAY WRIGHT: Why Boston for an Irish girl from Jersey? How did you get to Boston?

The college part for me is the teaching part. I enjoy the teaching on the court, but I also understand — I love this part in their life when they’re 18 to 22 and you get to teach them about life. I know it sounds a little corny, but I really enjoy that.

For instance, Omari’s answer to that question, I thought, was really articulate for a freshman, and it’s something I’ll spend a lot of time talking to him about. I hit Jalen, “How about that for the young boy? That was pretty good.” But we enjoy that. That’s what I like about it.

And this March experience is — it’s magical for these kids. Just getting in it is magical. The day that you see your name come up, it kind of gives you new life, no matter what happened during the season. And every step of the way, it’s a grand teaching experience. We’ve lost in the second round a lot, as we all know, and that’s hard for these guys to deal with. But teaching them that that’s part of life has been a big part of our program just because we do it a lot. We’ve just lost a lot and had some expectations.

But then teaching them how to handle on this big stage the fact that there’s much more in the world, that’s more important, even though it seems like this is the biggest thing in the world. It gives you the grandest stage to teach about life, the March experience, because it’s the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Q. Jay, I want to ask you a question about Phil Booth: Even though he’s a starter and a great player, he can get overlooked on this team or underappreciated for the things he does. I’m tempted to say he had the best 1-for-6 night I’ve ever seen a guy have last night.
JAY WRIGHT: Six defensive rebounds.

Q. Could you expand a little bit on what you saw he did for you as a glue guy last night, absent the shooting, although the one shot was pretty good, too. And what he does coming back from the injury as well.
JAY WRIGHT: We tried to explain this a little bit. When he was out, we had two of the freshmen that broke hands, they were out. Eric Paschall missed a couple games. But when Phil was out, it was a big loss, but it gave us the greatest chance to improve because he’s the guy — if you’re lucky, you have a guy like this on your team that everybody respects him as a player, but they really love him off the court. He’s just one of the guys that is always about the team. He’s always about other people. He lights up a room. Wherever he is, even in his classroom back at school, everybody loves him.

So it was a big loss for us in the locker room, on the court, in practice. So having him out there in the game last night, he started the game guarding Carter; did a great job. Six defensive rebounds. When we got down, he inbounded the ball every possession against their press, which is an incredible challenge against West Virginia. It’s very difficult decision making. And when we got down six and we called a time-out, I saw in him just looking in guys’ eyes, him talking to guys, I knew he had this.

So it’s interesting when — you know, when he shoots 1-for-6, it doesn’t bother him. So all the other guys see that he’s confident, he’s missing shots. This is what we’re supposed to do. He just lives it for us. He’s an amazing kid. You don’t get a lot of guys — and he does get overlooked, you know. I mean, the guy scored 20 in a National Championship Game, but yet it doesn’t bother him if he has a 1-for-6 night as long as he gets six rebounds and we win.

It’s a rare breed in sports these days, and we’re lucky to have him. But everyone on our team knows it. Our team — even Donte DiVincenzo, as talented as he is, he doesn’t have any problem coming off the bench behind Phil. That’s how much he’s respected on our team.

Q. Jay, you spoke a minute ago about how 18 to 22, those are really formative years. If it you could, could you just look back at your time at Bucknell and kind of the lessons you learned and how they shaped you as a coach and a person.
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah, I learned all the wrong things to do, and I had a great coach that was — Charlie Woollum that was very patient with me. I was the first person in my family to go to college. Just everything was new to me. Just seeing guys that could be great students and great athletes. Playing great players. Having a coach that was as concerned about me when I was a freshman and not playing that much as when I was captain of the team as a senior, a coach that was patient with my immaturity at 18 to 22.

So I look back on all those things and think about — I always think about with our guys, what was I thinking about back then as a player? It was a great experience for me at Bucknell, educationally and athletically, and I want these guys to have the same experience at Villanova.

Q. Jay, Chris Beard was saying earlier that your four-guard lineup and the four-out one-in offense actually transformed basketball, in his view. Can you take us through the genesis of that? Was that out of necessity, or were you looking at where the game was going at that point?
JAY WRIGHT: For all Philly people who have to live through this again, I apologize. We — in ’05, we had a starting team with Jason Fraser and Curtis Sumpter, 6’11” guy and 6’8″ guy. We played two forwards, three guards, and we were in the NCAA Tournament. And we played Florida in a second-round game, and Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL in that game. So we were going to go play Carolina in the Sweet 16. Carolina that year won the National Championship. I think they had six first-round picks, I think, that year. So you’re looking at a big — May was on that team and Felton. It was an unbelievable team.

So we had a 6’9″ freshman center we were going to start or we had Kyle Lowry, a 6′ freshman daredevil. And I just said — no one ever did that before. We didn’t do it. And I just said, how can we — this poor 6’9″ freshman is going to get killed, and Kyle at least will go in there and battle, and we’ll just spread them out.

And then we started doing it, and it was — we lost the game by one, a really close game. And Kyle Lowry, I think, had as many rebounds as May, and we came out of that game saying, we lost that game. There was actually a controversial call in that game. And we came out of that game saying, whoa, man, we might have found something.

But then Curtis Sumpter came back the next year, and we thought, all right, how are we going to do this? And he tore his ACL again. It was like, all right, no brainer. We’re going with it. It was so much fun to coach. It was so — it was pure necessity, and it was so much fun to coach. We really didn’t have any other choice. But we knew we kind of stumbled onto something, and then we kind of went with it.

Q. Speak of the magic of this, like every game is like the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s a handshake line in there. You seem to, as much as anybody, you embrace that, and you talk to guys. What do you say to them, to people in that? And what’s the most memorable thing anyone ever said to you on that line?
JAY WRIGHT: I do enjoy that. By the time you get to this point, you know, you’ve had a great season. Everybody that’s in this tournament. I think it was to Tara’s question, getting to the NCAA Tournament is so big, and every year we have a watch party, where we watch the show and all our fans there, and I say the same thing every year, I say “Don’t take this for granted.” The year you’re not in it, you feel so left out, and you’re watching those other teams. You’re so enviable.

So everybody’s feeling pretty good. Even when you lose, you’re crushed, but you know you had a great year. So I just love telling the players, you know, you see guys you don’t see during the year, how much you respect them because you prepared for them. We played Radford first game. I didn’t see Radford play during the year, but you start watching film, and you think, damn, these guys are really good. Mike Jones is a really good coach. I’m going to steal this. I’m going to steal that.

So you get to tell them that because you know you’re not going to face them in another conference game and they’re going to be mad at you.

So it’s enjoyable. It’s really enjoyable. I’ve had a lot of great moments. First time we were ever in the NCAA Tournament as a coach was against Eddie Sutton, and we were at Hofstra, and I think it was like — what does it turn out to be 3-14? Is that right? Is that the matchup? We shook hands before the game. I was just so excited to shake his hand and meet him, and he said, “You do a really good job. Your team is well coached.” That was it. I was good. We got beat by about 25, but I was good. Eddie Sutton said I was a good coach. You hear that?

That kind of stuff, it really resonates. I always remembered that. If I can ever do that for somebody, it’s always nice.

Q. Jay, you obviously won a couple years ago, and they’ve never been this far. Is there anything to experience, especially when you’re playing a team where it’s new to them?
JAY WRIGHT: I hope so, man. I hope so. There’s two parts of it. We talked to our team about this, that Jalen and Mikal, they’ve been through this. They’ve won it. But there’s a certain hunger when you’ve never been there that can elevate you too, that you just want it so bad.

It kind of felt like our team last year, that kind of hit us. We kind of had two similar seasons in a row. We won the regular season Big East, went to the Big East finals, lost one year, same kind of record. You go into the NCAA Tournament, you’re a 1-16. You kind of got — it’s crazy to say, but I kind of felt like it was just business as usual.

But when you’re in it for the first time and you’re advancing, you’re so excited. You’re so hungry. That can be your advantage. We can’t — we’ve got to remain humble, and we’ve got to be more hungry than Texas Tech and then hope some of our experience pays off.

Q. Jay, Eric and Donte were around for that title team, but obviously didn’t play. They were redshirting. What did they do for that team, and then kind of playing with those guys, kind of practicing with those guys, how has that helped them through the past two seasons?
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah, I definitely think that helped. They saw the commitment level of that. They were part of it. They saw the commitment level of that team. There were a lot of times, because those two were sitting out. Those two were sitting out. I can’t remember who the other young guys were. That year — it’s probably why we won it. Our second team that year at times would beat our first team because those guys were sitting out. And they would help us prepare.

A great example is when we played Buddy Hield in the semifinals, Donte DiVincenzo was Buddy Hield in the semifinals, and we couldn’t stop him. I think it really accentuated to our guys how difficult it was going to be to stop Buddy Hield, and how focused they were on that. Eric did the same thing.

So they were a part of it. They experienced that commitment, that sacrifice that it takes to get to this level. So I think they understand that, and I think it’s helped this team.

Q. Coach, so in preparation for this game after yesterday’s very physical game against West Virginia, is there anything you’re doing differently in game planning or just preparation for your players getting them ready for another physical game tomorrow?
JAY WRIGHT: We’re trying to stay off our feet. We didn’t use the whole practice time. We’re trying to stay as fresh as possible and try to learn as much about Texas Tech as we can through film and team meetings, walkthrough type settings, just to be fresh. Because they’re just as physical. They play just as many — they play at least ten guys. They’re going to be able to wear — try to wear us down, much like West Virginia did.

Q. When Scottie hit the shot here back in ’09, how much did things change from before in terms of the perception of the program, in terms of how you handled things or how you were able to recruit? Just before and after that shot, what it did for the team.
JAY WRIGHT: It seems like Final Four in college basketball takes you to another level in everything — recruiting, perception. You know, that was our first one in our tenure. Villanova had been there a couple times before, obviously. It definitely gave us a cache in recruiting and in perception of getting there, and even within the team, the players having known they did that and the program knowing that they can do that, that it’s really attainable, I think it helped in every area.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Rev #1 by #181 at 2018-03-24 20:19:00 GMT

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