Jay Wright, Hall of Fame Villanova Basketball Coach, Retires

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Williams recalled that after Villanova stunned North Carolina 77-74 to win the title in Houston, Williams waited for the Villanova players and coaches to congratulate Wright before his moment with Wright.

“I told him, ‘I’m very happy for you. I’m destroyed for my team but I’m very happy for you,’” Williams said. “And Jay called me back a couple of days later and said how much that meant to him. And he’s a great guy. He’s one of the giants of our game.”

When the original iteration of the Big East split apart in 2013, with universities with top-level football programs like Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut and West Virginia departing for other leagues, Wright helped keep the “new Big East” together: He coalesced the coaches under his leadership with a vision to build a basketball-centric league that could compete with Power 5 schools that feature both basketball and football.

“Obviously, he’s been terrific,” Creighton Coach Greg McDermott said in a phone interview. “His leadership when the Big East was kind of reformed, I think is the reason why the league is where it’s at today. He was all in from the beginning in making sure this was going to work and was certainly a big part of it.”

Wright leaves just as two of his most accomplished players, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, finished their careers after five years due to the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes by the N.C.A.A. in the wake of the pandemic. He praised both players after their season-ending loss to Kansas.

“At Villanova, the mission of the university is about community and love and truth,” Wright said. He added of Gillespie: “He’s a Villanova man. He’s a great Villanova man. And that’s a big part of our program. It’s not just being a basketball player but being a Villanova man. And he’s one of the best ever.”

If Gillespie, a two-time Big East player of the year, goes on to play in the N.B.A. next season, he would become the league’s 10th active former Villanova player. The group includes Miami’s Kyle Lowry, a six-time All-Star; Dallas’ Jalen Brunson, who scored 41 points in a playoff game this week; and Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges, a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year.

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