RADNOR >> What was Jay Wright’s first reaction when Kris Jenkins hit the buzzer-beater to win the NCAA men’s championship?
“When it went through (the hoop), I still thought there were 0.3 seconds or 0.5 seconds left,” said Wright. “Then Roy (North Carolina coach Roy Williams) grabbed me, we embraced, but it wasn’t until all my assistant coaches (grabbed) me, that’s when it hit me that we were the national champions, and I started smiling and feeling it. But I never got to hear that there was no time left.”
Wright and his basketball Wildcats shared the euphoric feeling of being national champions with an estimated 3,000 Nova Nation fans at a Villanova Stadium celebration for the team late Tuesday afternoon following their plane’s arrival from Houston. After the public celebration at the stadium, Wright and his players briefly met with the local media.
During the public celebration, which lasted about a half-hour, Wright introduced Villanova’s leading players, who each spoke briefly, then told the crowd, “This is the best place in the world to play basketball. In Houston, Nova Nation was louder than any other (school) in that arena. No one deserves a national championship as much as you.”
Wright praised the parents of the Villanova players: “You taught them how to listen (to their teachers), and you know, for an 18-to-21-year-old, that’s not normal.” The crowd laughed.
“We are very fortunate to be part of this Augustinian community that kept us on the right track.”
Kris Jenkins said, “Thank you Nova Nation! This is something they’ll never be able to take away from us.”
Daniel Ochufu said, “Thank you Nova Nation. I can’t think of a better way to go out.”
One by one, Villanova players such as Ryan Arcidiacono (described by Wright as “the heart and soul of this team”), Josh Hart and Phil Booth said how much it meant to win a national championship with this Villanova community of players.
Speaking of community, one of the Villanova players, Darryl Reynolds, has a real connection to the Main Line as he graduated from Lower Merion High School.
“I was holding my breath the whole time (Jenkins’ game-winner was in the air),” said Reynolds. “When it went in, it was like everything stopped (momentarily), then when I got over the shock, I ran onto the court. The court was a little elevated, so I was a little delayed in getting to Kris. … After the game, Coach Downer (Lower Merion boys’ basketball head coach Gregg Downer, who was at the game) and I hugged each other, and he told me something very personal, very Downer-esque.”
The Villanova fans braved the cold weather for more than two hours on the stadium field, waiting for the Villanova team’s plane to arrive in Philadelphia, and then for the buses to take the team to Villanova. For the fans, it was worth the wait.
Villanova senior Chris Stanziale of North Haledon, N.J., said, “I grew up as a Villanova fan, my Dad (David) was a freshman at Villanova when they won the national title in 1985, and I lived and died with the Wildcats. I felt honored that I got to go here. And it means so much to mean that my Dad and I can live (this championship) together.”
Former Devon Prep and Shipley soccer coach Jeff Jewitt, whose nephew Kevin Jewitt is captain of the Villanova baseball team, and whose father (Donald) graduated from the Villanova Law School in 1959, was glad he came to the celebration.
“This is so great for the Main Line and the city of Philadelphia,” said Jewitt. “You had an unselfish team (Villanova) beating a collection of all-stars (Kansas and North Carolina). They (Villanova) played so unselfishly and I give so much credit to Jay Wright. Now, he’ll never have to hear that stuff that he can’t win the big one.”
Villanova resident Leslie Dalton, accompanied by her young daughters, said, “This celebration is wonderful, something special, and Nova deserves it. The (championship) game was awesome.”
At the end of the public celebration, Wright led the fans in a chant where he said, “Nova!” and they responded “Nation!” After a minute or so, Wright closed the celebration by saying, “We love you, Nova Nation.”