Sept. 11, 2009
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, brings us up to date with one of the newest Wildcats, freshman guard Maalik Wayns.
Officially, he is now in the third week of his life as a Villanova student. But in a sense, it feels like much longer for a Philadelphian who says he grew up following the Wildcats.
"It feels like," he says with a smile, "I've been around forever."
As a young basketball player, Wayns was quite familiar with the program. He was 10 when Jay Wright assumed command at Villanova and he was friendly with all of the squad's native sons - Kyle Lowry, Shane Clark, and Reggie Redding. So convinced was he that this was the place for him, the 6-1 guard made a verbal commitment to the `Cats during his sophomore year at Roman Catholic High School and held firm to that as his star rose in the prep ranks over the last two years, culminating in an invitation to the prestigious McDonald's All-American game last spring.
"Looking up to those guys and getting the chance to play with Reggie made it very comfortable for me to come to Villanova," he says.
But friendship goes only so far. Above all was the atmosphere around the program that Wayns cherished. His natural family, including grandparents, parents and younger brother is close and at Villanova he saw a similar setting. It drew him to the program and the coaching staff and that bond has only strengthened. In fact, Wayns points to how he was treated last spring as Villanova sailed into the NCAA Final Four.
"They made all of us (the incoming freshmen) feel like we were a part of it," he says.
Wayns' journey to basketball success began in North Philadelphia. From the beginning, he's been well served by a competitive streak that has been likened by some who have watched both to Lowry's.
"Even in individual (drills), I want to win all the time," says Wayns. "I could have 30 points, 40 points in a game but if I don't win it doesn't mean anything. That's another reason I came to Villanova - to be a part of a winning team."
The college coaches began paying close attention to Wayns during his sophomore season at Roman Catholic. It was during that time he emerged as a backcourt dynamo, an explosive scorer and floor general with a tenacious streak that seemed perfectly suited for Villanova's style. At that point, he became a recruiting priority not just for the Wildcats, but major programs across the country.
"I was getting recruited by a lot of schools," he says. "So people were saying `they could still have Scottie Reynolds. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will still be there. Reggie Redding is there.' But I wasn't worried about that. I want to come in and fit in. I can get on the floor with those guys and bring something that they don't bring. And they bring things that I don't have. I just want to complement those guys and help our team win."
Naturally some were caught off guard when he chose Villanova in 2007, a full 18 months before he could sign a national letter of intent. His parents, Verland and Deborah, along with his younger brother V.J., were on board with the choice and in a gentler time that might have effectively ended the discussion. However, major college basketball is an exceptionally competitive business these days, and public statements are not necessarily the signal to all that the verdict is final.
Through it all, though, he was steadfast: Wayns' World would be Villanova. Not only that, he was so convinced it was the right place for him he went about enlisting some of his friends to join him. He and St. Anthony's (N.J.) High School standout Dominick Cheek were longtime pals and spent the better part of a month together in Argentina in the summer of 2008 as members of USA Basketball's 18-and-under squad. In addition, he was friends with Montrose Christian forward Isaiah Armwood and through him had come to meet Mouphtaou Yarou.
"It was just like getting some of my friends to come play basketball with me," he states.
When Wayns made his commitment to VU, Cheek indicated privately to him that he was likely to do the same. Armwood also took note of the commitment and later followed suit. So too did Yarou, who had become Armwood's teammate at Montrose Christian Academy in Maryland. The class would wind up being listed among the top three in the nation, depending upon which ranking service you preferred.
When pundits would complement him on the group, Wright quickly acknowledged the role this selfless guard played. But in Wayns' mind his new teammates only recognized the qualities he had seen here - mainly, the family environment.
"It's just four brothers coming together," he states.
Of course, it is hard for Villanova fans not to notice the similarities between this class and Wright and his staff brought here in 2002. That group also had two guards (Allan Ray and Randy Foye), a wing forward (Curtis Sumpter) and a big man (Jason Fraser). It too was rated among the top four classes in the country and arrived with no shortage of acclaim. In fact, the foursome was celebrated on the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine a few short weeks after arriving on campus.
In the end, it produced a pair of All-Americans (Foye and Ray), an All-BIG EAST standout and 1,500 point scorer in Sumpter and Fraser, whose career was wrecked by knee injuries but became an icon for his attitude and contributions to Sweet 16 and Elite Eight units. All were catalysts to the five year run that culminated in the 2009 Final Four visit.
The situation is different now with a veteran core with significant March success on its resume already in place. But the expectations are nearly as high for this crop of newcomers.
"People talk about our class being No. 1 or 2 in the country and we can't really pay attention to that," says Wayns. "We just have to work hard and learn from these guys. If we accomplish half of what (the '06 group) did, we'll be a decent class."
The 2009-10 campaign also represents a chance to redeem a senior season at Roman interrupted by a mid-season knee sprain. He still averaged 19 points and five assists per game but the sensation of being idled made for a tough campaign.
"It was real hard for me," he recalls. "Watching my team out there and knowing it needed me was killing me inside. But I didn't want to rush back. I knew I was coming here to this family and I had to let myself heal."
Wayns is healthy now and working side by side his new teammates. During the summer session he roomed with Reynolds and soaked up everything the senior had to offer.
"Scottie's a great player and I've learned a lot from him," Wayns says. "Being under his wing is really helping me. I'm just trying to learn everything I can from him, Corey Fisher and all the upperclassmen."
His new campus offers something new too.
"I'm used to wearing a shirt and tie to school every day and being in school with boys so it's a little different," he states of his transition to campus. "But I like it. Everyone's been very nice here."
For so long, Wayns was a Wildcat in Waiting. Now, he's fully vested, eager to tackle all that's ahead.
"I can't wait for the season to start," he says.
His patience is on track to be rewarded with the season opener on Nov. 13 against Fairleigh Dickinson.