Wright has mixed emo­tions about play­ing old friends

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Terry Toohey ttoohey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ter­ryToohey on Twit­ter

Jay Wright isn’t real big on play­ing his for­mer as­sis­tant coaches. Ac­tu­ally, the Vil­lanova coach hates it, which is why he has only done it six times in his first 17 years on the Main Line.

Wright went against for­mer as­sis­tant Joe Jones three times, twice when Jones was at Columbia and once at Bos­ton Univer­sity. Wright took on Navy twice when Billy Lange, now a 76ers as­sis­tant, was the head coach of the Mid­dies and faced Pat Cham­bers once at Bos­ton Univer­sity be­fore he be­came the head coach at Penn State.

So to say Wright isn’t thrilled with Satur­day’s game against Quinnipiac at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter (8 p.m., FS2) would be an un­der­state­ment.

For­mer Wild­cat and ex-Vil­lanova as­sis­tant coach Baker Dun­leavy is in his sec­ond year as the head coach of the Bob­cats. His as­so­ciate head coach is Tom Pec­ora, who was Wright’s right-hand man at Hof­s­tra be­fore Wright left to take the job at Vil­lanova. Pec­ora suc­ceeded Wright as the coach of the Pride and then went to Ford­ham, where he signed and coached Eric Paschall for a year.

Then there is Ryan Harkins, the di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions. He cut his coach­ing teeth as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant and video co­or­di­na­tor for the Wild­cats. The only sav­ing grace is that it is Vil­lanova’s bas­ket­ball alumni night.

“I do not like play­ing against our as­sis­tant coaches,” Wright said. “… This is not com­fort­able. But I do look for­ward to hav­ing our bas­ket­ball alums back with us, see­ing their fam­i­lies, and sens­ing the pride they have in this pro­gram. It’s im­por­tant that all those guys stay con­nected and that they know they are still a big part of this pro­gram.”

The 36-year-old Dun­leavy played for Wright from 2003-2006 and then left a job on Wall Street to re­turn to his alma mater as di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions in 2010. He rose through the ranks and be­came Wright’s as­so­ciate head coach in 2013 and helped guide the Wild­cats to the na­tional ti­tle in 2016. He took over Quinnipiac last sea­son and went 12-21 in his first year.

“It’s a re­ally weird, al­most un­com­fort­able feel­ing lead­ing up to it,” Dun­leavy said about the matchup. “I was sit­ting in my of­fice read­ing a scout­ing re­port and see­ing the faces and names that I’ve coached and re­cruited, know­ing that he’s go­ing to be coach­ing those guys. It’s odd. Once the ball tips it will be 40 min­utes of us try­ing to grind our way through and play the best we can. But ev­ery­thing lead­ing up to it cer­tainly has a very unique feel that I haven’t been through be­fore.”

Dun­leavy said the game came about shortly af­ter he was hired by Quinnipiac. Vil­lanova had an open­ing in the early part of its sched­ule and Dun­leavy was look­ing for a game to raise Quinnipiac’s pro­file and help with its re­cruit­ing ef­forts. He did not know the Wild­cats would go on to win a sec­ond na­tional ti­tle in two years, but he sees that as a plus, too. It’s a chance for his team to play the de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pi­ons in an NBA arena on na­tional tele­vi­sion.

It’s not so much about me and, ‘Hey I want to go back and play my old school,” Dun­leavy said. “That’s a great feel­ing, but hon­estly it does more for us in terms of get­ting ex­po­sure than it does giv­ing me a good feel­ing. I’d pre­fer to watch those guys on TV and root like heck for them.”

For­mer Vil­lanova player and as­sis­tant coach Baker Dun­leavy re­turns to Philadel­phia on Satur­day night to take on the Wild­cats as head coach at Quinnipiac.

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