Jay Wright Explains Philly’s ‘Hate’ for Villanova, Talks ‘Nova Knicks’

Last year Villanova retired the number of Jalen Brunson (left), seen here sitting beside former coach Jay Wright.

Jay Wright is a Philly guy through and through. He grew up in the area, stayed in Pennsylvania to play at Bucknell and coached Villanova for 21 years.

So he understands that the Philadelphia natives reserve particular venom for Villanova, something that returned after a trio of former Wildcats (now with the Knicks) helped eliminate the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs in the NBA.

In a recent interview with CBS Sports’ John Gonzalez, also a Philadelphia native, Wright said the resentment was somewhat deserved.

“Like you, I’m from Philadelphia, so I understand,” Wright said. “The other schools are in the city center. Villanova is in the suburbs. Villanova welcomes a lot of students from all over the country, not all kids from Philly. Other guys are from out of the area, they don’t know the hatred people in Philly have for Villanova.

Wright continued to explain why Villanova is different from other Big 5 schools like Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Drexel and, to a lesser extent, Penn. As coach, Wright felt it was his responsibility to explain local dynamics and make sure players understood the history of Big 5 programs.

“But some of it is deserved,” Wright added. “We are on the Main Line, the chic and wealthy neighborhood. All these rich kids from all over the country come to school there. I explained to them, “If you grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and you see this, you won’t like this either. And I would also explain to them that we have to earn their respect.

» LEARN MORE: ‘Nova Knicks: The numbers and themes behind New York’s Villanova-flavored resurgence

During Wright’s tenure, Villanova became a powerhouse that attracted much of the region’s top talent, as well as players from outside that region. And while fans of other local schools may have been upset about this, so were players who dreamed of playing at “Nova.” This presented a particular challenge that Wright prepared the players to face.

“Philadelphia is a great basketball town, they’re not just going to give it to you because you’re highly recruited,” Wright said. “They think they are better than you and tougher than you. And you know what? They might be right unless we prove it.

Currently, the Nova Knicks – Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo – are tied at two games apiece in their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. And even Wright was surprised by Brunson’s emergence this season in New York.

» LEARN MORE: What makes Knicks star Jalen Brunson so special? “The magic is in the work.”

“I didn’t think he would be this good,” Wright said of his former player. “I thought he would be a point guard on an NBA championship team because he was a big winner. I thought he would get along with a Luka Dončić (in Dallas) – I thought it was a really good situation for him.

“I thought he would get along with a Luka Dončić and lead a team to the NBA playoffs, maybe a more talented player could be their top scorer, but he would be their leader. … This is what I thought his career would be.

With the Knicks, Brunson proved he could be both.

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