SAN ANTONIO –– The Final Four is certainly a familiar scene to both Villanova's Jay Wright and Kansas' Bill Self.
Both coaches are appearing in their third Final Fours, each already owning a national championship (Self in 2008, Wright in 2016.) Together, the two have combined for 1,165 wins and represent two of the 10 current NCAA Division I men’s basketball coaches with at least one national championship.The impact Wright and Self have on the court is undeniable — the wins, the championships, the awards and the deep tournament runs. However, the impact they have off the court is just as strong.
“[Self] teaches a lot of life lessons,” Kansas senior guard and first team All-American Devonte’ Graham said. “You can talk to him like a father figure.”
While Graham has been with Self for four years, newer members on the Jayhawks are also feeling their coach’s impact.
“He really grooms us as young men,” said junior forward Dedric Lawson, who will be eligible to play next season after transferring from Memphis. “He teaches us discipline, building good character. He treats everybody with respect.”
That discipline affects every aspect of the lives for Kansas student-athletes. From homework to hanging out with friends, Self reminds his team to always remember the impact of their decisions.
“[Self] says, especially right now since we’re gone so much, that we need to focus on getting all of our school work done, even in the hotels,” freshman guard Chris Teahan said.Villanova players shared many of the same sentiments about Wright.
“He’s on you, he’s on you every day,” redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo said. “When I came in I was immature, I was a kid. I thought everything was going to be pretty, knock 3s down and just look good. He really showed me how to grind on and off the court.”
Wright recently released a book titled “Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset on and off the Court,” which has earned recognition as a New York Times Best Seller. It focuses on how Wright mentally prepares his players to think like winners — on and off the court.
“Our guys want to be great players,” Wright said. “They want to win championships. They want to go to the NBA. And what we try to teach them is if you're only trying to be a good basketball player you're not going to be the best basketball player you can be. You've got to care about what kind of student you are, what kind of person you are. I think our guys understand that.”Wright stressed that while he enjoys seeing players flourish in games and practice, he prefers to see their non-basketball success come first. “We really spend probably more time in that area than we do on basketball,” he said, “because the basketball part is easy.”
“[Wright] has a term he likes to say, ‘Compete in everything you do,’” said freshman forward Jermaine Samuels. “Whether that’s in the weight room, whether that’s in the classroom. No matter what, do everything you can hard. Everybody runs their own race.”
While the race to a national championship will come to a conclusion for either Kansas and Villanova in Saturday's Final Four semifinals, Self and Wright have both prepared their players just as well for the race in life.