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Sports

Wright Takes Villanova fans Behind the Scenes in 'Attitude'

His most gripping story comes from before the Wildcats played Miami in the regional semifinal

April 5, 2016, Villanova head coach Jay Wright celebrates with fans on the schools campus, in Villanova, Pa., the day after defeating North Carolina in the NCAA college basketball championship game in Houston. Jay Wright recounts Villanova's national championship run in his new book, "Attitude", photo: AP Photo / Matt Rourke
5 months ago

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Jay Wright had kept notes on scripture as much as scouting reports from the first scrimmage of Villanova’s championship season through the national title game, writing down homilies delivered by team chaplain Rob Hagan inside the cover of his game folders.

“I had never done it before, and I’m not doing it this season,” Wright said.

So what made Wright in 2015 suddenly want to jot down the religious reflections?

“Divine intervention,” Wright said.

Not long after the Wildcats clipped the championship nets with a buzzer-beating win , Wright thought perhaps he could turn Hagan’s 30-plus homilies into a bit of a commemorative collection.

“That’s what I wanted to do. But you meet with the publisher, and they said, I’m not sure 40 homilies can be successful,” Wright said, laughing.

Wright instead was persuaded to collaborate with Villanova media relations ace Mike Sheridan to recount the championship run instead, and turned the tales into the new book, “Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset On and Off the Court.”

Wright goes inside the locker room better than any beat writer — in fairness, he had top access — and sprinkles stories from his start in coaching all through that big April night in Houston when the Wildcats won it all.

“With the entire crowd on its feet and barely half a second left in regulation, Kris raised up in his textbook form and released the ball. … ”

In this April 4, 2016, Villanova head coach Jay Wright (R), embraces Kris Jenkins after Jenkins scored the game winning three point basket in the closing seconds of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, in Houston. Wright recounts Villanova’s national championship run in his new book, “Attitude.” Photo: AP / David J. Phillip.

Jeez, Jay, don’t leave us in suspense.

Skip the epilogue and pay heed to the spoiler alert, Villanova’s celebration still hasn’t really subsided, even after stretching from a parade in downtown Philadelphia to Spain and back.

Wright may have to get cracking on a sequel: Villanova (27-3) won a fourth straight Big East championship and should be a lock to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wright’s book outlines the steps Villanova made to reach the pinnacle of college basketball and is sprinkled with inspirational leadership tidbits (Failure Isn’t Forever) that showcase how it takes more than topflight talent to build a prominent program.

Wright said his only concern was revealing too much from deep behind the scenes of the private Catholic school.

“We talk to the players a lot about how we’re family,” Wright said. “We want to try and keep our business within family. I always talk to the guys about that. Then after that, I go out and write a book.”

Wright, in his 16th season at Villanova, touches on faith and Hagan plays a prominent role in “Attitude.”

“I definitely consider myself a spiritual guy,” Wright said. “I don’t know how that comes across, but I do. In the book, I think it comes through.”

His most gripping story comes from before the Wildcats played Miami in the regional semifinal. Hagan’s speech touched on humility and commitment to serving others; the sacrifices one must make to pick someone up who is down.

Hagan challenged the Wildcats to remove their sneakers and socks and wash each other’s feet. Hagan washed Wright’s feet (with iced tea) and Wright turned and washed point guard Ryan Arcidiacono’s feet with a pitcher of water. Wright wrote “it was as powerful a moment as we had experienced at any point in the season.”

“It really showed how much all of us were dialed in to each other,” Wright said. “Father Rob would normally ask me before he does something like that. Or we would discuss it. But he came to me first and I thought, wow, I’m cool with this but are we ready for this? Is this team ready for this together? But it was so natural. Coming out of that, I think we all realized, we’re on another level of togetherness here.”

The Wildcats had a week layoff headed into Saturday’s finale against Georgetown, and Wright went on publicity blitz that had him talking Oscars fashion on ESPN. His tasteful designer suits (call the next book, “50 Shades of Jay”) always put him on coaching’s best-dressed lists.

Charles Barkley wrote the foreword and Wright narrated the introduction for the audio version.

“I didn’t want to seem like, OK, you won a championship, now you have all the answers,” he said.

Maybe not, but Wright knows more big things are ahead and “Attitude” is more than a bookend to his career.

DAN GELSTON

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