Villanova coach Jay Wright took a shot at a Sunday morning Q&A with The Post’s after the Wildcats won their second Big East Tournament championship in the past three years.
Q: Who do you see as threats to your national title?
A: A lot. A lot. There’s a lot of teams that could beat us out there. That’s been proven, you know?, Marquette beat us, Butler beat us. We can get beat, there’s no doubt. But I think we can beat anybody, I really do.
Q: What would you say your biggest concern is?
A: Just keeping our focus. We can’t relax. There’s so much talk around us about repeating and about seeds and about. … Josh Hart, Player of the Year. … all the other things that all go along with success, which is great. But none of those things impact preparing for your next game. As a matter of fact, it distracts you from preparing for the next game. So us keeping ourselves focused on that next game is my biggest concern.
Q: Do you address wearing the bull’s-eye and being the hunted with them?
A: Oh yeah. All the time. We talk all the time about the distractions. We address them, we identify them — and then we try to eliminate them.
Q: That’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
A: Definitely, definitely. We spent a lot of time on that all year. We don’t complain or ignore them. We just say they’re there, all right? We know they’re there. We see them, we identify them, but now let’s put them out of our mind and let’s look at what we need to focus on. And we talk about it all the time.
Q: What do you remember about the Billy Donovan Florida teams in 2006 and 2007?
A: We beat that team in the second round in ‘05. And then, in ‘06, they beat us. They had a lot of guys back, we had a lot of guys back. In ‘06, they beat us in the Final Eight.
Q: They repeated as national champions in ‘07.
A: They had, I think, two or three guys that could have gone to the NBA after (’06), and they all talked to each other and said, “We want to come back and repeat.” That’s what was so unique about that year.
Q: Have you ever spoken to Billy about repeating?
A: I’m sure I have. … If I run into him somewhere we talk about our families, we talk about Rockville Centre (chuckle). But it’s never been our goal. It’s never anything we talk about ever. And it still isn’t. It’s just about enjoying the journey of just trying to get better every day, and being the best team we can be by the end of the year and let’s see how far it takes us. I don’t want this team — if they don’t repeat — I don’t want them to feel like failures if they’ve given everything they’ve got. That’s my most important role, I think, with our team.
Q: So you haven’t picked anybody’s brain in any sport that has repeated.
A: No. I purposely didn’t do that.
Q: What was your message to this year’s team when you sat them down for the very first time?
A: We came back from the ESPYs, and the guys from last year’s team were with us, obviously, on the trip, and then, it was the end of July and we started practice for a trip that we were gonna take to Spain in August. And our first meeting was, “Hey, that’s over, this is a new season. Let’s enjoy this group. Let’s be the best we can be. There’s no pressure on us to repeat. We’re not defending anything. We have the trophy; it’s in our trophy case. No one’s trying to steal it. No one’ gonna get it. We don’t have to defend anything. It’s ours forever. Now, what are we gonna do now? What’s this group gonna do? It doesn’t have to be repeat. Let’s just be the best we can be.”
Q: In reference to your book “Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset On and Off the Court” — on a scale of 1-10, where would you rank this team’s “Attitude”?
Q: What’s preventing it from being a 10?
A: We still have a little slippage during the game. We’re getting better, though. “Attitude”-wise during the season, we were around 6 sometimes; we’re getting continually better. The Seton Hall game (Big East Tournament semifinals) was a big step for us, that was a great “Attitude” game.
A: They played great; we didn’t. There were a lot of plays where we missed shots we normally make, and came back and got a stop. A game where everything seemed to go against us and we found a way to win, that’s a great “Attitude” game.
Q: Can you win a national championship with your “Attitude” at 9?
A: No. But we can get it to 10. We can keep getting better here.
Q: At the start of last year’s tournament, was that team a 10?
A: No, we were probably at around a 7 or an 8. After the Seton Hall (Big East Tournament championship) game, we were probably a 7 or an 8 ‘cause we did not handle things well in that game.
Q: How did you get it from 7 or 8 to 10?
A: Learning from the loss really helps you. And then getting a fresh start in the NCAA Tournament — and played a great first-round game against (UNC) Asheville, and then in the Iowa game, where there was a lot of pressure on us because we had lost in that second-round game two years in a row. … Handling that was great. I think coming out of that Iowa game, we got it to a 10. It was very clear that everybody was on us about that game, and in that game — when there’s a lot of pressure on you — how you respond to negative plays, and how you handle positive plays is important. You never know when you feel like your team’s gonna be there until you go through it.
Q: A meaningful “Attitude” moment in your life.
A: In our first couple of years at Hofstra, when we were struggling, the president at that time, Dr. Short, and the athletic director, Harry Royle, were very patient with us but … I didn’t know they were gonna be that patient. The only thing we could do was keep a positive attitude. But still, you know, in that business, you’re running out of time. And I felt we did a great job in our third and fourth years of sticking to our plan, staying with our core values. …. (Assistant) Tom Pecora was a big part of that, he’s got one of the greatest attitudes of anybody I know. He kept me going. I’m not always good at “Attitude” myself. (Saturday) night, we had a 14-point lead in the second half, I was getting upset with the refs and Jalen Brunson had to come over to me and say, “ ‘Attitude,’ coach. ‘Attitude.’ We got this. We got this.” So I’m not perfect either all the time, and that’s what we gotta do for each other.
Q: Did you get “Attitude” more from your mother or your father?
A: Probably my father. My mother’s very emotional, as I am. My father’s very centered and grounded.
Q: Was there an “Attitude” moment growing up for you in that household?
A: Yeah, yeah, there were a lot. My dad would talk to me about that all the time. My sophomore year (in high school) I had knee surgery and I was playing starting varsity. My dad telling me, “Hey, that’s your next challenge.” And then junior year, losing the championship game, I felt we had a great team, we got crushed. “Hey, you gotta come back and get better.” And we won it as a senior. My dad was always that kinda guy. No excuses, no complaints, just see what you can control, and get on to the next challenge.
Q: Leaders you admire.
A: Barack Obama … Pat Riley … Mike Krzyzewski.
Q: What was that White House visit like for you?
A: The White House and the President, itself — just that — regardless of any human contact … it’s just awe-inspiring. The way they do it, they take you on a tour, they treat you so well. They make you feel like you’re an important part of our country. But Barack Obama himself, and the personal nature with which he addressed my family — he took family pictures with my family; it was his idea. He gets in, and talks to my kids, then he talked to every one of our players individually. He knew a lot of them. The best thing was when the team went out on the stage for the press conference, and he and I waited in the back ‘cause they introduced he and I together. He had a cup of coffee and we had, like, a 10-minute conversation about college basketball. His brother-in-law Craig Robinson is a friend of mine, who played at Princeton when I played at Bucknell. We had, like, a legitimate 10-minute conversation, like two businessmen talking about the business of college basketball.
Q: Did winning the national championship change your life in any way?
A: Not really. Not really. So far (chuckle). Everything’s been pretty normal. I think it’s the beauty of Villanova. At Villanova, they love the national championship, but they respect that our guys graduate, that our guys are part of the student body, they respect that just as much.
Q: Why won’t success spoil Jay Wright?
A: If success is defined as winning national championships and winning games, it’s not the most important thing to me. It’s important … I enjoy it, and I strive for it. Your family, and your staff and your players and the Villanova community — they’re important to me, and what our relationships are and what we do together, that’s most important to me. What our attitude is every day, all of us, and how we attack our challenges, that’s what’s important. You know, everything’s not gonna be perfect. We’re gonna have some years here where we’re not No. 1, and we’re not winning championships, and how we handle that’s just as important to me. How we handle that together.
Q: Any sleeper team in this tournament?
A: I don’t know if you count Gonzaga as a sleeper, but I think this is the best Gonzaga team — they’ve had a lot of great ones. I also think Duke is a team that is playing their best right now. I don’t know if you count Kentucky, but they’re usually higher rated coming in. And I think it makes them most dangerous because they’re actually young teams that are peaking at the right time, as opposed to teams that have been undefeated all year and might be getting a little tired.
Q: 25 words or less: What makes Seton Hall dangerous?
A: Elite defensively … elite physically, and also peaking at the right time.
A: Ability to get hot from 3 in a tournament setting, and just go on a tear and outscore anybody.
A: Another team that is peaking at the right time. Lost their best player (Edmond Sumner), but has learned to be a different team without him.
A: Extremely disciplined, intelligent, and their style of play is perfect for the NCAA Tournament.
A: Another team that is peaking at the right time, lost their best player (Mo Watson Jr.) and they’ve become a different team that is peaking at the right time. High-level offensive power.
A: Elite defensive team. Also, a style of play that’s very conducive to the NCAA Tournament.
Q: Fill in the blank, as a basketball player, what I like best about Josh Hart is …
A: He is complete. He fills every category of a skilled, intelligent, tough basketball player.
Q: Kris Jenkins.
A: Incredible offensive confidence, and elite competitor and leader.
Q: Darryl Reynolds.
A: Outstanding leader … consummate team player and incredibly unselfish and willing to do the dirty work.
Q: Jalen Brunson.
A: Highest-level basketball I.Q. … incredible competitor … great teammate.
Q: Mikal Bridges.
A: Best defensive player I know. … Unstoppable in the open court, and also great teammate.
Q: Eric Paschall.
A: Emerging offensive weapon … best defensive player on our team.
Q: Donte DiVincenzo.
A: Explosive offensive player … high-level passer, and flexibility in terms of being able to play any position.
Q: Dylan Painter.
A: Tough, physical inside player … intelligent basketball player, great defensive communicator.
Q: What was your reaction when Obama called you the George Clooney of college basketball?
A: (Laughs) I respect his eye for fashion, so I was very humbled. I was really proud when he recognized that we had 100 percent graduation rate. I was really proud of that.
Q: Will that be the case this year too?
Q: How do you make sure that happens?
A: It’s very important to Villanova. It’s very important to the professors. Our administration and faculty would be happier that everyone graduates and we come in second place than win it and guys don’t graduate. They really would.
Q: What drives Jay Wright these days?
A: Excelling each day. The challenge of just taking on the next day and excelling.
Q: Have you paid for a single meal since winning the national title?
A: (Laughs) Yeah, because I force myself to. I’d have to say I’ve been offered a ton of free meals, and I don’t want to take advantage of it ’cause I know there’s gonna come times we don’t win. I’m gonna have to pay for ’em, I don’t want to get used to it.