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Villanova's Jay Wright reflects on year of celebration

By Andy Jasner, The Sports Xchange
Villanova University head coach Jay Wright celebrates his teams win over the University of Kansas in the South Regional Championship of 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 26, 2016. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI. | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/1d5c08cc3df527cb2559d568e9c11800/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Villanova University head coach Jay Wright celebrates his teams win over the University of Kansas in the South Regional Championship of 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, March 26, 2016. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI. | License Photo

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Christmas Eve will mark another milestone for Jay Wright as he celebrates his 55th birthday.

There's more than enough to celebrate this holiday season for the highly successful Villanova University head basketball coach.

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Fresh off a national championship with a sizzling six-game run through last season's NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are off to a 12-0 start in 2016-17 and a No. 1 ranking.

Villanova has won a program-best 18 consecutive games. The Wildcats captured the Big 5 title for a record fourth consecutive year. The senior class of Preseason National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds went four years without losing one Big 5 game.

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That's 16-0 to be exact.

After going 35-5 last season on its way to the second national championship in school history -- the other one came under coach Rollie Massimino in 1985 -- Villanova is well on its way to an incredible two-year run of sustained excellence.

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Only Duke (1991 and 1992) and Florida (2006 and 2007) have managed to repeat as national champions since 1991. Villanova needs some luck to make it happen, but another national title is surely well within its reach.

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Ascending to No. 1 means you're going to receive the best shot from every opponent. Villanova continues to devour everything in its path. It sure looks easy, doesn't it?

"Believe me, it's not easy," Wright said the day before Villanova throttled American 90-48 at The Pavilion, extending its home winning streak to an eye-popping 44 games. "We're very fortunate to be in the position that we are. I'm so fortunate to have three great seniors in Josh, Kris and Darryl because they keep things moving for us. Coming off a national championship, these seniors have shown such incredible humility and hunger to get better and lead the team. They lead by example and do all the little things that are necessary to be successful.

"It's not easy from our vantage point. We talk to the guys all the time about staying humble, doing the work that needs to be done and showing it on the court. When you have this type of senior leadership, it does make the transition from one season to the next much smoother."

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Wright began his head coaching career at Hofstra in 1994-95.

The first three seasons were a bit rough with records of 10-18, 9-18 and 12-15. Then he put together four winning seasons in a row. In 1999-2000, Hofstra went 24-7 with a regular season title and conference tournament title. The next season, Hofstra finished 26-5 with regular season and conference tournament titles again. It resulted with consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

In 2001, Wright took over at Villanova, and 488 wins later -- 366 on the Main Line -- the program is among the greatest in all of Division I.

"Coming to Villanova, I always thought this type of success was possible," Wright said. "I've seen it done and I followed the 1971 Villanova team where Jack Kraft led the team to the national championship game. So I've seen it done here. Then of course what coach Massimino did in 1985 was incredible and we all saw what happened with the championship. So you know it's possible. After going through what we did last season and accomplishing a goal like winning a national championship, it's a great feeling and we feel great for everyone associated with our program.

"To live through the whole season and seeing it come out the way it did was a special feeling that no one around here will ever forget. Like I said before, this couldn't have been done without our leaders last season. Then the leaders this year like Josh, Kris and Darryl had that experience last year. It has really helped push us forward having that type of leadership. I'm very fortunate as a head coach to have these types of players."

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Wright's life has changed in so many ways since winning the national title. Already a popular figure on campus and throughout the Delaware Valley, he's now much more in demand.

Hey, winning a championship will do that.

"I'm more recognizable now out in public and I embrace that," Wright said. "There are more requirements for me, more requests. There are so many charitable organizations, so many worthy groups that are asking for appearances. I would say the one thing that has changed for me is this: you want to do everything, but you realize now you can't do everything. You want to do every single one, but you can't. You don't like saying no to anything. This is all from our success and it's fantastic. These are good problems to have and it comes from winning and having your program be as recognizable as it is now."

Villanova is in a different place with this sustained success.

Expectations are higher. Demands are greater. But Wright marches on with the same attitude. In his view, nothing is really changing all that much in the little bubble surrounding his team.

"We are always focusing on getting better," Wright said. "We have to get better each day and make sure we're much improved at the end of the regular season as we head into the NCAA Tournament. Last year was great, but this is a new group. We have to stay focused on what we're doing and we can't get away from doing those little things that have made us successful. It's not easy though it may look that way sometimes from the outside. I want our players to remain humble and hungry."

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