Nov. 10, 2007
The Nova Notebook is a weekly feature by Villanova director of media relations Mike Sheridan which takes you behind the scenes with student-athletes and coaches in the men's basketball program. In this edition we follow the team in the 24 hours leading up to its season opening game against the Stony Brook Seawolves on Nov. 9 at the Pavilion.
Thursday, Nov. 8
On a clear but cool autumn late afternoon, approximately 150 people have gathered in front of the Pavilion. A navy blue ribbon extends across the doors to Villanova's newest athletic facility and a small riser is set up with a podium. Behind the platform hangs a banner with the new name of the structure: the Davis Center For Athletics and Fitness, named in honor of the lead donors of the 55,000 square foot project, Jim and Bill Davis, Villanova classes of 1981 and 1985 respectively.
Among those who briefly address the audience are University president Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A.; Jim Davis; director of athletics Vince Nicastro; two representatives of student government; along with basketball head coaches Jay Wright and Harry Perretta. It is a festive occasion with the marching band playing the school fight song as the group moves toward the front door at the conclusion of a blessing from Father Donohue.
Finally, at 4:23, the ribbon is cut and the crowd, consisting largely of students, is ushered into the building and up the stairwell towards the fitness center on the third floor. The open house will continue for nearly two hours as Villanovans get their first look inside at the new building.
Wright spends much of the first hour mingling with guests and doing a couple of television interviews. At a few minutes after five, he offers his goodbyes and heads back down the stairwell. He makes a quick trip into what will be soon become his former office in the Pavilion and quickly changes so that he can head out on to the practice floor.
All the hoopla across the driveway now recedes as the Wildcats gather around a video screen temporarily placed near the court to review some tape of their upcoming opponent.
Seated quietly across the way is a pair of National Basketball Association scouts. Ray Jones and Tony Barone Sr., are former college coaches now charged with the task of evaluating college talent for the Memphis Grizzlies. Both were instrumental in that organization's selection of former Wildcat standout Kyle Lowry in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft.
Says Wright later: "It's really rewarding to hear from people like Tony and Ray about how well Kyle is doing in Memphis. They have great things to say about his attitude and work ethic."
The practice itself today is somewhat different than many of those that have preceded it since the official start of full team workouts on Oct. 12. While there is the usual emphasis on the core values of Villanova Basketball, there is also an eye cast towards opening night, with information on the tendencies and plays run by Stony Brook.
There will be more on that later.
Due to the festivities at the Davis Center, practice began roughly two hours later than it typically would have. Therefore, the post-practice meal does not begin until now as opposed to its normal 6:00 p.m. start.
The post practice dinner is a nightly ritual begun when Wright assumed command of the program in 2001. Villanova Dining Services prepares a catered meal with a menu approved by a dietician. It is long on chicken, pasta, vegetables and fruit and light on fried foods, sodas, and heavy desserts. It is served in the Press Room and players, coaches, and support staff casually mingle as they dine.
There is also a short video review of Stony Brook and a few words from Wright to the team. Then it's off to get some rest and prepare for the full day that lies ahead.
Friday, Nov. 9
In the basketball offices, Wright and members of his coaching and office staffs gather in a conference room for a bit of cake to celebrate the final official day with the men's program after nearly three decades of Mary Anne Gabuzda. "Mares", as she is known to generations of Villanova players and coaches, isn't moving far and isn't even leaving the university. She is sliding over to work with the women's basketball program and will continue to be quite visible in the first floor of the offices.
"You are a legend," Wright tells Gabuzda. "I know when everyone comes into that building they are going to stop to see you."
After a bite of cake, the coaches move towards the Pavilion court for the game day walkthrough. According to lore, this element of preparation, now standard operating procedure for virtually every college and professional team, dates to the early 1970s. Los Angeles Laker coach Bill Sharman thought it would be a good idea to get his troops on to the court around lunch time to get some shots at the basket and become familiar with the surroundings. One of those he had to convince of its merits, however, was Wilt Chamberlain, a noted night owl. Chamberlain did accede to Sharman's plan and the Lakers went on to win 33 games in a row at one point en route to the NBA title.
Needless to say, the practice soon became a hoops staple. On this day, Wright gathers his group at mid-court and explains the concept of the walkthrough to a young team that includes four newcomers - Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Malcolm Grant and Jason Colenda - who were not in the program last season. Then, the `Cats listen to Wright and assistant coach Patrick Chambers, the man on the staff charged with putting together the outline of the scouting report on this game. Later, they break into groups of guards and forwards and get some shooting in.
The Wildcats have completed their on-court work and moved into the Press Room for a pre-game meal. As always, it begins with a few words from team chaplain Rev. Rob Hagan, O.S.A. It has been a full week for Hagan, who serves as an assistant athletics director in addition to his role in the Augustinian community. Following Tuesday night's exhibition game against Bloomsburg, he hopped a flight to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then accompanied another Villanova staffer on the 90-minute ride to Morgantown to be with the men's soccer team for its BIG EAST Tournament opening round game at West Virginia. After the game, he settled into a seat on the team's coach bus for the six hour ride home that delivered the squad back to campus near 3 a.m.
After a full day of work on Thursday, Hagan is set for this evening's game at the Pavilion. Once the game ends, he will hop into a car and head to Baltimore, where he will officiate at an 8 a.m. mass the next morning for the Villanova football team as it prepares for a game at noon on Saturday against Towson.
Hagan reads a passage from the Bible and then offers a few thoughts. On this day he recounts a conversation with a Villanova alumnus who recently reviewed 100 resumes and then conducted 20 interviews for a major position at a major New York firm. This person noted that of all those the company spoke with exactly one sent along a thank you note.
"It's about paying attention to the little things every day of our lives," he told the room, while also pointing out that the person the individual who sent the thank you note would be one of a handful receiving a second interview.
Among those in the room were two guests hearing Hagan for the first time. Carl Reuter and Tim Capstraw would be handling the broadcast that night for Fox Sports New York and were sitting with Wright to complete their preparations for the telecast. Both have known Wright for years, dating back to his days on Long Island at Hofstra University.
"You have to follow that," Capstraw, a former head coach at Wagner and current New Jersey Nets radio analyst, says to Wright with a smile. "Good luck."
"It's funny," Wright tells the announcers. "These guys probably think Father Rob and I get together and that we make sure our messages are in synch - but we never do. He just has a great feel for where we are at."
Once each player finishes his meal, he makes his way around the room to give other members of the group a fist pound. They then return to the locker room, change, and retreat to their rooms on campus for some quiet time in advance of the game. 5:10 p.m.
Each of the players is in the locker room going through their respective preparation ritual. Some head out to the court to shoot. Others listen to Ipods with earphones in the locker room. By 6, everyone who is dressing is on the court warming up. (Fisher and junior Frank Tchuisi, each nursing injuries on this night, are dressed in street clothes.) They will return to the locker room for some final words of instruction from Wright and at approximately 6:50 the group is making its way down through the student section.
At 7:08, referee Ed Corbett tosses the ball into the air and the 2007-8 season is underway.
The Wildcats have defeated Stony Brook 86-64.
"We have a lot of work to do," Wright tells the post-game press conference. "But we needed to go through this experience."
They will do it somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 more times this season.