Here it is: Like Villanova. No joke. Like it a lot.
Not just in the Final Four. Not only to win the NCAA men's basketball championship again, for the second time in three years and third overall. But, in general – ya know, the campus, the school, its Catholic tradition, the whole shebang, Jay Wright’s stellar program included.
Here’s the thing. Like Saint Joe’s, La Salle and Penn, too. Heck, Drexel as well.
Why not? Being a Temple alum has never altered a lifelong affinity for college hoops in my hometown of Philadelphia and all five schools set within the city limits, not to mention that neighboring suburban entity that, well, basically has set the standard for the nation the last several seasons.
No envy here, just pure, unadulterated admiration for what the Wildcats have become since Wright started landing the likes of Randy Foye, Allen Ray and Curtis Sumpter back in 2002. The core signified the genesis of a true national power, the type of blue blood in the sport that doesn’t need to do a double-take when finding itself lined up against a Duke or a Kentucky or a Kansas, as it will this Saturday night in San Antonio when it squares off against the Jayhawks, the other remaining No. 1 seed, in a national semifinal.
Keith Herron was the first ’Nova cat who caught my attention, bridging the mid-‘70s gap between beasts Howard Porter and John Pinone. Led by those three, the Wildcats racked up eight NCAA bids, five Sweet 16s, five Elite 8s, a Final Four and a title-game appearance. Heady stuff, and then came the original coup de grace, the 1985 national championship squad that made Rollie Massimino a legend when, really, love him or “he broke up the Big Five” hate him, he probably already deserved to be one before then.
But, under Wright, they’re even better now, and, frankly, think that’s great. If anything, actually wish my alma mater would follow the Wildcats’ lead.
Definitely wish my fellow Owls would at least grasp what it is.
Here’s the thing, everyone around wanting to root against Villanova with a vim and vinegar your teams rarely seem to have when they play against it: you, and your schools, mine along North Broad included, miss the point. You’re living in the past. You’re thinking small. Real small.
The game ain’t about winning Philly. It’s to win the whole damn thing. To be the best in the country.
Focusing all your energy on local rivalries and the often silly minutia that goes with them, the big picture gets lost. The big-time recruits, too.
Drexel’s best pitch: We play in Philadelphia.
Penn’s: We offer an Ivy education.
La Salle’s: Tom Gola played here and we had that South Philly floater a handful of years ago.
Saint Joe’s: We reached the Final Four … in 1961. Doesn't count due to a gambling scandal. But, still, we were there.
Temple: Coach Fran Dunphy is a great guy.
Hey, yo, it’s time to step it up at each and every one of those places.
None of them may be able to use Villanova’s for quite some time, if ever: We’re one of the best teams in the country … every year.
But, not for nothing, give it an effort, will ya, over in North Philly, West Philly and City Line? Jeez …
Maybe all that misguided distaste for/disgust with ’Nova then could be redirected into a more productive, positive way – such as deserved support for your basketball programs instead of some mutated joy in seeing the Wildcats fail, a rarity anyway.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY
For Temple fans who harbor ill will toward Villanova, the last three years have to be especially disturbing.
It wasn’t that long ago that the son of the one of the Owls’ all-time greats ranked among the nation’s top recruits, and was considering the idea of taking his talents to North Broad.
But then Rick Brunson’s candidacy to be a Temple assistant went “poof,” and Jalen Brunson opted for the Main Line.
A national title and Final Four later, the younger Brunson can lay claim to being one of the country’s best players … and, arguably, the biggest thorn in current Owls head coach Fran Dunphy’s side.
Just imagine where Temple would be with Jalen …
We’ll never know.
But the Wildcats are pretty damn good thanks in large part to their junior point guard, who averages 19.2 points per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor, including 41.4 from beyond the arc, and 81.1 from the line. Toss in 4.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and his calming influence every time out, and you’ve got an All-American, and very well a national player of the year.
Funny thing is, while experts with NBA draft thoughts dancing around in their head try to draw comparisons to current and former pros, they miss the boat continuously on his most obvious one: his father.
A lefty who could dominate the flow of a game with his handle and physicality just like his son does now, Rick handled the point for John Chaney’s Elite 8 squad in 1993. He later played nine years in the NBA.
Expect a similar pro career for Jalen. You know, once he finishes up at Villanova … instead of Temple.