Villanova coach Jay Wright is recruiting and preparing as if the Wildcats will lose underclassmen Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to the NBA draft, after the pair followed teammates Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges in declaring for the draft before last Sunday’s early-entry deadline.
Wright, who was on this week’s NCAA.com's podcast March Madness 365, along with national title game opposing coach Michigan’s John Beilein, said the coaching staff is helping them prepare for the draft.
“If they’re going to enter, we want to help them be first-round picks,’’ Wright said on the podcast. “We want to make sure they get good workouts, eat right and get in good shape.’’
Wright said the uncertainty with DiVincenzo and Spellman has changed recruiting this month, but the Wildcats can’t make commitments until they know their decisions.
“Now we could be looking at grad transfers or maybe a freshman,’’ said Wright. “It intensifies the work load at this time of the year but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.’’
Wright added that the Wildcats will still have a strong core, even if the Final Four's most outstanding player in DiVincenzo (31 points in the 790-62 national title game win) and the powerful forward Spellman (15 and 13 in the national semifinal win over Kansas) stay in the draft.
“We could have two of them or we could have one of them,’’ said Wright. “But we may not have either one of them and that’s how we’re preceding. We’re hoping they will be first-round picks. We will be a good team with great leadership with Eric Paschall and Phil Booth and a lot of unproven young guys. But it will be a team with great potential. By the end of the year, we could be a really good team. But we could really struggle early. But we’re not afraid of that as long as we keep the culture playing the right way. We just might have to scratch and claw.’’
Wright also reflected back on the title during the podcast and his trip to Italy last week to see Pope Francis and present him with a signed basketball.
“I was so nervous,’’ said Wright of meeting the Pope. “I’ve never been so nervous to meet anyone in my life.’’
.@VUCoachJWright presented @Pontifex with an autographed basketball from this year’s National Championship Team during a special audience at the Vatican! https://t.co/PUPE9RqjJZ#NovaMBB #NovaNation pic.twitter.com/wkrz0llmpS— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) April 15, 2018
Beilein said he hasn’t taken a day off since the title loss to the Wildcats. He said he immediately focused on recruiting as well as helping in the decisions of Mo Wagner and Charles Matthews. Wagner decided to declare and stay in the draft. Matthews will not sign with an agent and keep his options open about returning.
“We don’t stand in a guy’s way,’’ said Beilein. “We want to put him in a position for success.
“He’s a hard worker and he’ll work his tail off,’’ Beilein said of Matthews. “We feel he’s in a good position where he can make a decision. It’s a win-win, either way if he comes back to Michigan or if he feels he’s in position to go to the pros.’’
Beilein said the Wolverines will be remodeling, not rebuilding.
The Wolverines lose Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson and Jearon Simmons off the national runner-up squad. But Beilein highlighted the improvement and expected impact returnees Jordan Poole, Jon Teske, Isaiah Livers and Zavier Simpson will have on next season.
But like Wright, Beilein said the incoming freshmen will have to be ready to contribute. Both teams had impactful classes. Michigan has five incoming freshmen, led by small forward Brandon Johns and point guard David DeJulius. The Wildcats have three in its incoming freshmen class in point guard Jahvon Quinerly and forwards Cole Swider and Brandon Slater.