SARASOTA, Fla. — Jay Wright says he’s never felt this inexperienced in his life.
After three decades of coaching men’s Division I college basketball, the two-time national champion coach now finds himself in the trenches of retirement after hanging it up at Villanova last month.
“I want to sit back and just not be a coach,” the 60-year-old Wright told USA TODAY Sports. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I started coaching right out of college. I feel so hurt. I grew up a college basketball fan as a kid. I never dreamed of having as much success as I did.”
Wright is leaving the sport at a critical juncture. The NCAA’s adjusted transfer rules last year came right as players became eligible to garner NIL deals and make money on college campuses off their likeness for the first time, creating complex scenarios where coaches have expressed concern with players leaving campus for the wrong reasons.
Yet Wright feels optimistic about the long-term future in college basketball, even if the short term is chaotic.
“The big picture is the NCAA didn’t get out in front of it,” Wright said. “Now, everyone’s stuck being reactionary, which is not a good position to be in at all. That’s going to take some time and it’ll be crazy for a little while, we’ll need some guard rails to go up. It’s (recruiting) just going to have to be done differently. If you look at what Chris Beard did at Texas with transfers, he put a really good team together. John Calipari used to do it with all freshmen and that was really hard.”
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Wright’s passing the torch to 37-year-old Kyle Neptune, a 10-year assistant under Wright, following a blueprint fellow retirees Mike Krzyzewski (handing over to Jon Scheyer this year) and Roy Williams (handing over to Hubert Davis) have executed in a new era of college basketball.
“A lot of coaches like Kyle have come up in this era and they’re very comfortable with how much our game is changing,” Wright said. “They’re visionary and I think young coaches are going to be able to come up with creative ways to take college basketball into a newer era.”
Wright said the long-term gain of the changes of the new era could be beneficiary to the sport on multiple levels down the line.
“I think we are gonna go through a couple of years where it feels crazy because of the combination of NIL and the transfer portal,” Wright said. “It’s gonna stay crazy compared to what they were. But I think we’re going to see some benefits to all of that. We’re seeing all these guys staying in college now. You’ve got four things as a player: make money, mature as a person, mature as a player and get an education. There’s positive sides.
“I do think college basketball is going (to) get better because players stay longer. Therefore, the NBA guys are going to know they can get more finished products and it’s gonna make the NBA a lot better.”
Wright has been courted by NBA teams over the years, but said any consideration will have to wait until he can fully decompress from three decades of college coaching that started in 1984 as an assistant at Rochester. In his 21 seasons at Villanova, Wright turned the program into a perennial contender and morphed the Wildcats into a blue-blood of the sport following national titles in 2016 and 2018. He concluded his college career with a 642-282 (.695) record , including four Final Four appearances and eight Big East titles.
Wright served under San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on a coaching staff that guided an NBA-loaded roster in the Tokyo Olympics and said an NBA future is not out of the cards. He’s just not in that head space.
“We’ll see what happens,” Wright said. “I haven’t just sat back and not been a coach — ever. After that, I’ll see where I’m at.”
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.