Wright on dou­ble-duty

Vil­lanova coach is also an as­sis­tant for USA Bas­ket­ball at this year’s World Cup

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tim Reynolds

Jay Wright im­me­di­ately ac­cepted a chance to be an as­sis­tant coach with USA Bas­ket­ball for this year’s World Cup.

And then he checked his cal­en­dar.

Vil­lanova stu­dents are headed back to school this week — while the Vil­lanova men’s bas­ket­ball coach will be half­way around the world for the next month or so. It has been, and will con­tinue be­ing, a ma­jor sched­ule challenge for Wright as he’s tasked with both help­ing USA Bas­ket­ball win a gold medal while his play­ers are on cam­pus get­ting ready to start their seasons.

“It was a snap ‘yes.’ That’s the prob­lem,” Wright said. “And then af­ter you think about it, you’re like, ‘wow.’ Only then do you re­al­ize what you’re miss­ing at home.”

To be clear, Wright said this is a prob­lem only half-se­ri­ously.

Lo­gis­ti­cal mat­ters weren’t go­ing to keep him from be­ing part of the staff of as­sis­tants that in­clude Golden State’s Steve Kerr and At­lanta’s Lloyd Pierce — all work­ing un­der USA Bas­ket­ball head men’s coach Gregg Popovich of the San An­to­nio Spurs.

“This is bas­ket­ball heaven,” Wright said.

It’s not un­com­mon for col­lege coaches like Wright to be part of the USA Bas­ket­ball mix, which can col­lide with col­lege cal­en­dars. At the most re­cent World Cup in 2014, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach and Syra­cuse’s Jim Boe­heim was one of the as­sis­tants — and that tour­na­ment ended in mid-September. But at this tour­na­ment, which starts Aug. 31 in China with the Amer­i­cans play­ing their first game against the Czech Repub­lic a day later, Wright is the only col­lege coach on the U.S. ros­ter. Popovich, Kerr and Pierce all have some time be­fore their “real” teams start prac­tice. Wright doesn’t have that lux­ury.

“He’s kind of doing dou­ble­duty right now,” Popovich said. “He’s keep­ing touch with his kids, and ob­vi­ously doing a great job with the USA team. But he hasn’t for­got­ten about his Vil­lanova guys.”

To make this work, Wright re­ar­ranged Vil­lanova’s sum­mer sched­ule, every­thing from player work­outs to coach­ing meet­ings. He was able to do his usual gamut of re­cruit­ing, but his usual start-of-se­mes­ter mat­ters like meeting with par­ents and hav­ing new­com­ers get ac­cli­mated now will fall on his staff of as­sis­tants un­til he re­turns.

“You don’t say no to this,” Wright said.

The Amer­i­cans needed a 17hour flight from Los An­ge­les be­fore ar­riv­ing in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, where they re­sumed prac­tice on Mon­day. They’ll play three games in Aus­tralia, the first of those com­ing on Thurs­day, be­fore head­ing to China next week.

“Long­est flight I’ve been on, but I’m happy to be here,” said Jayson Ta­tum of the Bos­ton Celtics.

Popovich be­lieves in a style of coach­ing where ev­ery­one gets a chance to argue all parts of the game — a par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach, like he uses in San An­to­nio. Wright is pri­mar­ily help­ing with the U.S. de­fen­sive schemes, but he also gets his op­por­tu­nity to of­fer sug­ges­tions for the of­fen­sive plans. And he’s usu­ally one of the last coaches still work­ing on the floor af­ter prac­tice, run­ning groups through shoot­ing drills.

“We’re meeting in the morn­ing, watch­ing film, meeting with the team, prac­tic­ing, go­ing back, watch­ing film, then watch­ing film with the team,” Wright said. “And then we all go to din­ner, but all we talk about at din­ner is bas­ket­ball.”

Wright guided Vil­lanova to na­tional cham­pi­onships in 2016 and 2018. Over the last four seasons, only Gon­zaga has won more games than the Vil­lanova — the Bull­dogs have 130 wins, the Wild­cats 129. And he has plenty of USA Bas­ket­ball ex­pe­ri­ence, like a gold medal as coach at the 2005 World Univer­sity Games and a se­lect team coach be­fore the 2010 World Cup and 2016 Olympic runs by the se­nior na­tional team.

De­spite his ex­pe­ri­ence, Wright notes that be­ing around coaches like Popovich, Kerr and Pierce for umpteen hours a day has been a bas­ket­ball ed­u­ca­tion. “It’s such an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity,” Wright said. “We’re only a cou­ple weeks in and I’ve al­ready learned so much that I can bring back to our team. Hon­estly, I feel like I’ve grown in two weeks as a coach, as a leader, more than I have in the last 10 years.”

ETHAN MILLER PHO­TOS/GETTY

Myles Turner of the 2019 USA Men's Na­tional Team talks with as­sis­tant coach Jay Wright at a re­cent mini­camp. Wright, the head coach at Vil­lanova, is the only col­lege coach on the na­tional team staff.

Jay Wright talks with na­tional team mem­ber Kyle Kuzma at a prac­tice ses­sion this month.

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