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Andy Katz | | June 2, 2022

Villanova's Jay Wright becomes latest men's basketball icon to call it a career

Andy Katz on Jay Wright's sudden retirement

Every game. After every game. Jay Wright would tweet a congrats to the opponent, the coach and the program. Win or lose. 

Every time.

Wright adapted to the current norms. 

But he never changed.

He was always and will remain all class. 

Wright stunned the college basketball world Wednesday by informing his Villanova team that he would be retiring as head coach. Fordham’s Kyle Neptune, a former assistant, will take over a program that has been viewed as one of the standards in the sport. 

Wright won two national titles in 2016 and 2018, went to the Final Four in 2009 and again earlier this month for his fourth trip. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year and was an assistant on last summer’s gold-medal-winning Olympic men’s basketball team. 

HISTORY: Villanova college basketball championships: Complete history

“Over the past 21 seasons, I have had the opportunity to live out a professional dream as the head coach at Villanova,’’ Wright said in a tweet sent out Wednesday night from his account. “Patty and I have been blessed to work with incredible, gifted young men who allowed us to coach them and brought us unmatched joy. We cannot overstate our gratitude to the players, coaches and administrators who have been with us on this path. It has been an honor and a privilege to work at Villanova, especially under Father Peter and Mark Jackson (Nova athletic director).

Wright continued, “Now, though, it’s time for us to enter a new era of Villanova basketball. After 35 years in coaching, I am proud and excited to hand over the reins to Villanova’s next coach. I am excited to remain a part of Villanova and look forward to working with Peter, Mark and the rest of the leadership team. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.’’

Wright moved from the well-tailored suits to the casual wear during the pandemic like his peers but once again he never, ever, altered the way in which he performed. 

“Jay Wright is as good a coach as our sport has,’’ said Hall of Fame coach Bill Self of Kansas, whose Jayhawks beat Villanova in the national semifinal before beating North Carolina for the national title earlier this month in New Orleans. “All his peers admire and respect how his teams play and compete and how he conducts his program. He’s total class.’’

Wright coached for 21 seasons at Villanova, winning eight Big East regular-season titles and five Big East tournament titles as well as being named Naismith coach of the year twice. 

His two national titles were completely different. The first in 2016 was won on the greatest buzzer-beater in the sport when Kris Jenkins beat North Carolina on a 3-pointer after Marcus Paige had tied the game on his own 3-point shot. 

“I love Jay Wright,’’ former North Carolina coach Roy Williams, also a member of the Hall of Fame said. “I admired him a great deal. He’s one of the true giants in our game and in our profession. I do believe Jay did everything first class and with integrity. He worked his tail off. He was a great recruiter and ambassador for his university. He was great for college basketball.’’

WRIGHT'S LEGACY: Villanova's second title in three years affirms blueblood status

Williams said when Jenkins hit that shot he made sure to stand and wait for Wright to congratulate him. He said it was one of his saddest moments in coaching but he was happy to see Jay Wright win his first title. 

Nova cruised to the 2018 title with a resounding win over Michigan after dominating Kansas in the semifinal. 

Wright’s program continued to develop stars throughout his career including Kyle Lowry, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiancono, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo among many. 

“Coach Wright’s true legacy will not be his championships,’’ former assistant Baker Dunleavy, the current Quinnipiac head coach said. “His legacy is the set of values he has instilled in his coaches and players. Those are obvious watching a Villanova game  and more importantly meeting a Villanova player. To him that is the most significant mark he could leave. We are all proud to be associated with him.’’

Wright also ensured the Big Five never faded in the basketball-loving city of Philadelphia. Villanova can dominate the series, dictate whether it still exists and yet Wright was beloved by his rivals. 

“Villanova and Jay Wright are synonymous for excellence,’’ former Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, now a Michigan assistant said. “Jay is perfect combination of coaching, recruiting and representing your school. The game and profession are better because of Jay. He’s a true friend.’’

Wright’s announcement comes in the same month fellow Hall of Fame legend Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski coached his last game on the same night at the Final Four in New Orleans. 

Williams retired a year ago. That’s three Hall of Fame coaches ending their careers at the top of their game. 

“NCAA basketball certainly will miss a great coach and even better person with Jay Wright’s retirement,’’ NCAA Senior Vice President of basketball Dan Gavitt said. “Jay loves college basketball and respects everyone involved in the game — creating an incredible culture at Villanova for his players. I wish Jay and Patty nothing but joy and fulfillment in the next chapter of their lives.

Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Williams and Coach Wright are huge losses for college basketball in just over a year. Yet like the legends they learned from and followed — Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Rollie Massimino — the next generation of coaches will rise to the challenge of advancing our great game.’’

Wright, 60, will now rest and likely be the most coveted former coach by every television network that covers the game. 

Regardless, his legacy is intact as one of the greatest coaches in the modern game. 

Villanova wasn’t a blue blood before Wright arrived. The Wildcats are now. All because of Wright’s master class in leadership and running an elite program. 

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