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Jay Wright (basketball)
Born/Date of Birth: 24 December 1961
Place of Birth: Churchville, Pennsylvania, United States
Spouse: Patricia Reilly
Children: Reilly Wright, Collin Wright, Taylor Wright
Books: Attitude: Develop a Winning Mindset on and Off the Court
Jerold Taylor "Jay" Wright Jr. (born December 24, 1961) is an American college basketball coach. He is currently the men's head coach at Villanova University, a position he has held since 2001. He previously served as head coach at Hofstra University (1994–2001), leading the program to NCAA Tournament appearances in both 2000 and 2001.
Wright has led the Villanova Wildcats to six Big East conference championships and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 18 seasons as head coach. Wright took Villanova to the Final Four in 2009. Wright then led Villanova to the 2016 NCAA Championship, defeating North Carolina. In addition to the 2016 championship, Wright and Villanova also won the 2018 NCAA Championship. Wright is widely regarded to be one of the best coaches in the NCAA currently.
Wright is a graduate of Council Rock High School North in Newtown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. During his senior season, he impressed scouts with a 69-point performance against rival Malvern Prep. He graduated from Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1983, where he played on the basketball team and became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Early coaching career
Upon graduating from college, Wright got his first job as an assistant coach at Division III University of Rochester. In 1986, he got his first position in Division I college basketball as an assistant coach at Drexel University. His next job came as an assistant to Rollie Massimino at Villanova, where he remained from 1987 to 1992. In 1992, he moved with Massimino to UNLV, where he remained until 1994.
In 1994, Wright was named head coach at Hofstra University, which had struggled through most of the 1980s and early '90s. Under Wright, the program slowly and steadily improved, and by 1999 the Pride were a premier team in the America East Conference. They won the conference championship in 2000 and 2001, and from 1999 to 2001, went 72–22, including two NCAA tournament appearances. Wright was named America East Coach of the Year in 1999–2000 and 2000–01. He was also tabbed Eastern Basketball's Coach of the Year in 1999–2000.
Wright took the Pride to the Postseason three times:
- 1999 NIT: Hofstra was defeated by Rutgers University 68–45 in the first round
- 2000 NCAA Tournament: As a #14 seed, Hofstra lost to Oklahoma State University 86–66 in the first round.
- 2001 NCAA Tournament: As a #13 seed, Hofstra was defeated in the first round 61–48 by UCLA.
2001–2004 deasons: Two NIT appearances
On March 27, 2001, Wright was named head coach at Villanova, becoming the eighth coach in the 81-year history of the program. Wright inherited a mediocre team from previous coach Steve Lappas, and in Wright's first season, they made the NIT. In 2002, Wright was able to secure one of the top rated recruiting classes in the country, led by McDonald's All-American center Jason Fraser. However the Wildcats had a mediocre 2002–03 season, which was marred by a phone card abuse scandal that eventually resulted in suspensions to over half the roster. The Wildcats again made the NIT but did not advance far. The 2003–04 season saw more playing time for the talented young players from the previous recruiting class, but it also resulted in a mediocre season and another NIT appearance.
2004–05: Sweet Sixteen
In the 2004–05 season, Wright's fourth as head coach, the team improved since the year before. Villanova finished 22–7, including an upset over #2 Kansas, and earned a fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova defeated New Mexico and Florida to advance to the sweet 16. However their tournament run came to an end next round after a narrow loss to North Carolina, the No. 1 seed (and eventual champion).
2005–06: Elite Eight
The 2005–06 season saw the Wildcats ranked in the pre-season top four of both major polls, thanks to the return of most players from the previous season. Led by seniors Allan Ray and Randy Foye, and explosive sophomore Kyle Lowry, the Wildcats lived up to the hype and finished with a 25–4 regular season record, including a 14–2 record in the Big East regular season, which tied them with University of Connecticut for first place in the conference.
In the 2006 NCAA Tournament, Wright's experienced team earned a #1 seed for the first time in school history and posted victories over Monmouth in the first round and Arizona in the second. Wright's squad then narrowly edged Boston College to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1988. However, the Wildcats run ended there, as they lost to eventual champion Florida. This marked the second consecutive year in which Wright's Wildcats were eliminated by the eventual national champion.
For his performance in the 2005–06 season, Wright received national coach of the year honors from CBS/Chevrolet; the Naismith Awards; and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). He was also named the Big East Coach of the Year.
2006–07: Second Round
The 2006–07 squad had to replace three starters, but thanks in part to the healthy return of Curtis Sumpter, who had missed the previous season with an ACL injury, and McDonald's All-American Scottie Reynolds the Wildcats made it back to the NCAA tournament for the third straight season. With a 22–10 record, they were seeded ninth but lost to Kentucky in the second round.
In the 2007 offseason, Wright once again came up with a highly rated recruiting class, this time led by McDonald's All-American Corey Stokes and Jordan Brand All-American Corey Fisher.
2007–08: Sweet Sixteen
The 2007–08 season saw Villanova struggle at times, including a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season. Wright and the Wildcats were able to rebound to get a 12 seed (the final at-large seed) in the NCAA Tournament. They upset fifth-seeded Clemson in round one, and beat Siena in round two to advance to their third Sweet 16 in four years. The team once again lost to the eventual champs, which this time was the Kansas Jayhawks.
2008–09: Final Four
The 2008–09 team, led by senior Dante Cunningham, junior Scottie Reynolds and breakout sixth man Corey Fisher, streaked to a fourth-place finish in the Big East, and a double bye in the conference tournament. The third-seeded Wildcats overcame a double-digit halftime deficit to underdog American to avoid a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament. The team then defeated sixth-seeded UCLA by twenty points to make the program's fourth Sweet Sixteen in five years. In its Sweet Sixteen matchup against Duke, the Wildcats used timely perimeter defense to score a 23-point victory and a trip to the Elite Eight. In a back-and-forth Elite Eight game with then-conference rival Pitt, Reynolds came up big with a game-winning shot to put Villanova back in the Final Four for the first time since their national championship run in 1985. Villanova then fell to North Carolina, the eventual champions, in the National Semifinals at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan by a score of 83–69.
2009–10: Second Round Upset
For the 2009–10 season, Wright brought in a recruiting class in the top five of the national rankings. The class was highlighted by point guard Maalik Wayns (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic), forwards Isaiah Armwood (Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian School) and Mouphtaou Yarou (Nattingou, Benin; also attending the same Montrose Christian School) and guard Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, NJ / St. Anthony's). Taylor King, a former McDonald's All-American and Duke transfer, also joined the rotation, after redshirting the '08–'09 season. The Wildcats earned a two seed in the NCAA tournament, but after a rocky start in the tournament, highlighted by Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher being benched to start the game, fell in the second round of play to Saint Mary's.
2010–11: First Round Upset
The Wildcats got off to a 16–1 start, and were ranked as high as sixth in the nation. However, they went 5–11 the rest of the way, including six straight losses to finish the season. The final two losses were particularly tough, as Villanova lost to South Florida in the Big East tournament before falling to George Mason in the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament.
2011–12: Losing Season
Faced with a young team after the departures of seniors Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, the Wildcats endured their worst season under Wright, finishing 13–19. To date, it's the only season in the Wright era where they have not competed in any postseason tournaments. They did manage a victory in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, defeating Rutgers 70–49, before falling to South Florida for the second consecutive season.
2012–13: Return to the Tournament
Villanova's recent struggles prompted some to speculate that Wright's job was in danger. However, with the help of sophomores Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, as well as freshmen Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats returned to respectability, winning 20 games and returning to the NCAA Tournament. Though they fell to North Carolina in the Round of 64, the Wildcats picked up some signature wins, defeating #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse in the span of a week. They also ended the regular season with wins over #17 Marquette and #5 Georgetown.
2013–14: Second Round Upset
In the first season of the current Big East Conference, formed after Villanova and six other schools broke away from the original Big East Conference, Villanova was the #2 seed in the East and lost in the second round to Connecticut, the #7 seed and eventual national champion.
2014–15: Second Round Upset
Villanova was the #1 seed in the East and lost in the second round to North Carolina State, the #8 seed.
2015–16: National Champions
Villanova earned a #2 seed in the South Region, defeating UNC Asheville, Iowa, Miami and Kansas to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2009. In the national semifinal, Villanova defeated Oklahoma 95–51, the largest margin of victory in Final Four history. The Wildcats then proceeded to defeat North Carolina in the national title game, 77–74, on a 3-point shot by Kris Jenkins as time expired, earning Wright his first championship.
In addition to the record shattering 44-point defeat of Oklahoma in the Final Four, the 2016 championship run included numerous other notable achievements. Villanova was the first school without an FBS football program to win the NCAA men's title since Villanova's own championship in 1985. They were also the first team in 31 years (again, since the 1985 Villanova team) to dispatch four straight AP top 10 teams (Miami, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina) in their run, and 5 total AP ranked teams (Iowa, in addition to the previously mentioned teams). They were also the only team, again since the 1985 Villanova championship squad, to beat four straight top 3 seeds on their championship run: two 1 seeds (Kansas and North Carolina), one 2 seed (Oklahoma) and one 3 seed (Miami). Villanova's performance included two of the most offensively efficient games ever recorded since the analytics era began in 2002, tallying 1.56 and 1.51 points per possession against 3-seed Miami and 2-seed Oklahoma, respectively. Villanova's average margin of victory for the tournament was nearly 21 points per game, and the only teams they defeated by less than 19 points were Kansas and North Carolina (the overall first and second seeded teams in the tournament, whom they beat by 5 and 3 points, respectively). It has been called perhaps the most dominant tournament championship run of all time, and the most dominant of the analytics era by a wide margin.
2016–17: Second Round Upset
Villanova was the #1 seed in the East and lost in the second round to Wisconsin, the #8 seed.
2017–18: National Champions
Shortly before the start of the 2017–18 season, Wright was named the recipient of the 2018 Legends of Coaching Award, part of the annual John R. Wooden Award program. Villanova earned a #1 seed in the East Region, defeating Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, and Texas Tech to advance to the Final Four for the second time in three years. In the National Semifinal, Villanova defeated Kansas 95–79. The Wildcats then proceeded to defeat Michigan in the National Championship Game, 79–62 to give Wright his second championship in three years. Assistant head coach Ashley Howard left Villanova on April 8, 2018 to become the head coach at La Salle University, a Philadelphia Big 5 rival.
2018–19: Second Round exit
Wright faced a difficult task after his second national title. Last year's departures included Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, and Jalen Brunson, who were each taken in the 2018 NBA Draft. As a result, Wright was left with a young, inexperienced squad entering the season. Villanova stood at #8 in the preseason rankings, but they were crushed by Michigan in a title game rematch in their third game of the season. They later fell to Furman in overtime at home, dropping them from the Top 25 entirely. After losing to top-ranked Kansas in December, Villanova won 11 in a row and returned to the national rankings. A February win over #10 Marquette allowed them to clinch the Big East regular season title. They would then go on to defeat Providence, Xavier, and Seton Hall to win their third consecutive Big East Tournament, becoming the first team to do so. Wright earned his sixth Big East Coach of the Year Award for his efforts. The Wildcats finished 26–10 and earned a sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament. They would defeat 13th-seeded St. Mary's in the Round of 64 by 4, before falling to Purdue 87–61.
2019–20: Shared Big East Title
The Wildcats ended their season with a 24–7 record. Villanova's 13–5 record in Big East play allowed them to clinch a share of the conference's regular season title, tying with Creighton and Seton Hall. The Wildcats were seeded second in the Big East Tournament, but the tournament was cancelled early due to the coronavirus pandemic. Oddly, the Big East Tournament was the last conference tournament to be cancelled, which resulted in games being played despite other conferences cancelling their games.
International coaching career
Wright has coached, as a head coach or assistant coach, basketball teams representing the United States three times in international competitions. He led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2005 World University Games as head coach, and was an assistant coach in the 2000 World Championship for Young Men Qualifying Tournament. Wright coached the American team in the 2007 Pan Am Games to a fifth-place finish, with a 3–2 record.
Wright is married to Patrica Wright (née Reilly). The couple has one daughter, Reilly, and two sons, Taylor and Colin.
Wright is a two-time winner of The Runway to the Fashionable Four, an award given by Tim Capstraw to the best-dressed coach in college basketball from 1998 until 2002. Today, some consider Penny Hardaway to be the best-dressed coach in college basketball.
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