National champion Wildcats bask in celebratory perks
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jay Wright had one more coach of the year trophy with his name on it waiting for him.
Wright's name wasn't inscribed on the hardware.
Rather, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli had stuck a Post-it note with ''Jay Wright'' scrawled on it to cover his own name for Big 5 coach of the year.
Wright may have won the 2016 Naismith Coach of the Year. Martelli was named best of the season in Philadelphia.
''Seriously, there's not one person in here that would say `Big 5 Coach of the Year? It must be Phil Martelli! It's not Jay Wright!' The man won the national championship,'' Martelli said to laughter during the Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony. Writers, coaches and team sports information directors picked the winner before the NCAA Tournament.
Martelli later added the curious choice to some of Philadelphia's more infamous sports moments.
''Threw snowballs at Santa Claus; threw batteries at J.D. Drew; cheered when Michael Irvin got a concussion. And did not give Jay Wright the coach of the year the year he won the national championship.''
What's one more trophy for the national champion Wildcats?
The Wildcats beat North Carolina on a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater for the title, then returned home last week from Houston with a police escort and a campus rally. Villanova fans descended on downtown Philadelphia for a raucous championship parade. President Barack Obama was patched through for a congratulatory phone call to Wright.
That was just the tip of Villanova's championship week.
The Wildcats have lugged the championship trophy with them throughout Philadelphia's sports complex and were feted by the Flyers, 76ers and Phillies. They celebrated with Allen Iverson, who, Georgetown to his core, politely declined to flash the Villanova ''V'' sign in a group photo.
Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu threw ceremonial pitches Monday at the Phillies home opener. Arcidiacono practiced during the day with a graduate assistant so his fastball would zip across the plate, before lobbing one right to Phillies coach Larry Bowa.
A small group of Wildcats will ring the opening bell Friday at the New York Stock Exchange.
''We like the attention,'' Ochefu said. ''It's been fun for sure. It comes with being the champions. And we like being the champions.''
The Wildcats were honored as team of the year at the annual Hall of Fame ceremony, originally billed as a celebration of Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph's, La Salle and Penn's greatest all-time teams.
The 1985 national champion Wildcats earned the honor for Villanova, though that baton has surely been passed to the new national champions.
Rollie Massimino, architect of the `85 team, was thrilled to share championship coach billing with Wright at the famed Palestra, the epicenter of Philly hoops.
''Jay is the kind of kid that appreciates everybody,'' the 81-year-old Massimino said.
Wright squeezed through the crowd and stopped for every hug, handshake, autograph and – here's one hassle Massimino didn't deal with in `85 – selfie fans requested.
''All right, you guys gotta stop,'' `85 forward Harold Pressley said, breaking up one group for his one fleeting moment with Wright.
Time to himself?
''No,'' Wright said, laughing. ''Not at all. There are no quiet moments yet.''
Winning a national championship has again made Wright a hot coaching commodity in the NBA.
Fans at the parade that chanted at Jenkins and Josh Hart for ''One More Year!'' can rest their vocal cords on calls of ''Stay, Jay, Stay!''
''Yeah, I will. I'll stay,'' Wright said.
Massimino never recaptured his March magic when he left Nova for stints at UNLV and Cleveland State. His critics said that success ruined him, something Jim Valvano – who led NC State to an improbable championship in 1983 – warned Massimino about.
Massimino believed Wright was a Villanova lifer.
''If I had to bet, he'd be right at Villanova,'' Massimino said. ''His loyalty, his love. That's what it's all about.''
It's loyalty that connected generations of champions.
Chuck Everson was one of 10 members of the 1985 team that attended the Final Four in Houston ''living and dying with every possession'' from across the North Carolina bench.
''I hope they win again next year,'' Everson said.
Everson's wife and daughter told him the endless phone calls and interview requests to relive the greatest moment of his basketball career would end.
''They said, `It's finally over!' I told them, no way,'' he said.
Everson scanned the crowd from his bleacher seat and laughed when he saw Arch and Big Smooth and Ochefu telling stories to fans from the past month that are so fresh, so fun – and will be retold on an endless loop for the next 31 years.
They are no longer just college basketball players, they are bona fide basketball celebrities.
Massimino still hears from fans who want to tell him where they were on April 1, 1985.
''We were watching from home, we were screaming, the dog was barking,'' one woman told Daddy Mass.
Just like in 2016, the Wildcats were celebrating.