The elephant in the gym? Jay Wright is not there anymore at Villanova. | Mike Jensen – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Everything about Villanova basketball is as it ever was, and yet completely different without the veteran coach.
Your eyes glance all around Villanova’s nearly-empty Finneran Pavilion. Upper and lower decks, Davis Club, Fitzgerald Club. Nope … this is no prank. Jay Wright isn’t in charge anymore. He has left the building.
You can’t say it’s the elephant in the gym, the seismic coaching transition in progress on the Main Line. Every other question to every Villanova player at Wednesday’s basketball media day was about the transition.
Eventually, Kyle Neptune himself won’t be hit with a constant slew of replacing Jay questions. That will just take a while.
“It’s all right,” Neptune said after his own little media scrum. “Listen, every question I got asked all the time last year, same thing.”
Last season, Neptune was doing a one-year stint as Fordham’s head coach, after almost a decade as a Wright assistant. Let’s assume Neptune is nervous, excited, maybe even worried sometimes about what his predecessor will think about this or that.
Let’s also stipulate it’s a dream scenario for a 37-year-old coach. Sure, the expectations and pressures are real. In reality, they are roughly the same as Wright faced every season — get to the second NCAA weekend, go from there. Accomplish that enough times, elite talent will keep showing up, giving you a chance to make some history.
Asked all sorts of ways how he’s approaching his task, Neptune crystallized it in a sentence.
“I’m holding the line,” Neptune said.
As for how he handled trying to differentiate himself from Wright, his successor said, “I never focused on not being him. I mean, he’s a Hall of Famer, to me the best coach in college basketball the last 10 years. I would like to be a lot like him, you know what I mean?”
It still feels odd, almost jarring. Probably the majority of Villanova students weren’t born when Wright took over as head coach in 2001.
As for how often Wright actually is around, Neptune said, “I would like for him to be around more. I try to beg him to come around. He retired for a reason. He wants his personal time and his space. He’s always there if I need to call him. I call him often. We talk often. He does come by practice, but he’s definitely not here anymore.”
His players, meanwhile, handled Wright-to-Neptune questions like it was a layup drill.
“The main difference would have to be, just coming from a younger voice,” said Wildcats sophomore wing Jordan Longino. “Although Coach Wright comes with a lot of energy and a lot of aggressiveness, I think Coach Neptune has been really eager from the jump, almost building the same habits, but came in with a little more energy, to get us locked in from the first day we got here.”
On the court …
“Same principles, same scheme essentially — building the same habits,” said Longino, who got cleared to fully practice three weeks ago after surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee that caused him to miss last season’s NCAA Tournament. (Longino said he’s been a full go at practice the last two weeks, feeling great.)
Normally, this 2022 media day still would have been about change. Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels gone after last season’s Final Four run. (Although Samuels was at Wednesday’s practice, before heading off to Pacers G League camp.) New faces getting assimilated. (There still were plenty of questions about freshmen Cam Whitmore, Mark Armstrong, and Brendan Hausen coming in.) There were injury updates. Justin Moore remains on track for a possible in-season return from his Achilles tear. Caleb Daniels is out for a bit with a broken nose, expected to be a full go for the start of the season.
Back to the big change that isn’t so big a change …
“Same kind of values, same kind of principles,” said junior big man Eric Dixon. “Just a different voice behind it.”
There must be some little differences at practice?
“Honestly, no,” Dixon said. “You’ve got the same pyramids, the same ATTITUDE wristbands, the same VILLANOVA BASKETBALL wristbands …”
Same catchphrases …
“Humble and hungry, defend and rebound, all that kind of stuff,” Dixon said.
“His name is different,” said veteran forward Brendan Slater. “Other than that, it’s the same thing. … Just a different face.”
Maybe a little louder?
“I’ll give him that,” Slater said. “Coach Nep is maybe a little bit louder. I think that comes with age, though. I was told by Kris Jenkins and Taj Bell and the guys before me, they tell me that Coach Wright was a little bit louder when he was younger. I think that comes with age.”
» READ MORE: Villanova’s Justin Moore has ‘no timetable’ for a return but he’s grateful to be on the ‘road to recovery’
If there’s another difference, Slater said, “Coach Nep, he gets straight to the point … Coach Wright will come at you with 15 different sentences and it’ll be the same thing in 15 different ways.”
A knock at the old coach? Nah, don’t read it wrong.
“Coach Wright is so smart and so witty,” Slater said.
“We probably watch a little bit more pre-practice film,” said senior guard Chris Arcidiacono. “Probably the only real difference.”
Who curses more?
“Uh, Coach Wright,” Arcidiacono said.
The new coach probably shares more musical tastes with his players. If Wright liked the Chainsmokers, “That’s someone my dad would like,” Arcidiacono said. “Them, Coldplay, U2 …”
Another reporter walked up to Arcidiacono.
“With the coaching change … what have you found so far, some of the similarities, some of the differences?”
Holding the line, they could all say, just leave it at that as a theme for 2022-23 at Villanova.


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