Jay Wright may have shocked the basketball world last night when he announced he was retiring as the head coach at Villanova, but in retrospect, there have been some hints over the last few weeks.
At the Final Four press conference, he said “Hoops is in the house. I get to say it one last time.” Few caught it and fewer thought anything of it.
A week later, when the first weekend of the recruiting period took place, he opted not to go on the road as his assistants all went out, including three at the Nike EYBL. Again, most people didn’t think much of it, especially since it hasn’t been unprecedented in recent years, especially during his time with USA Basketball.
With the decision now made however, and Kyle Neptune returning to take the helm of the program after a year at Fordham, here are answers to five key questions.
1. Why Neptune?
Two main reasons, recent success and continuity with the current staff and roster. Neptune overachieved in his first season as a head coach, taking a Fordham program that went just 2-12 in 2020-21 to a 16-16 season. In so doing, he proved that he was ready to run his own program.
Second, there’s the built-in continuity with both the current Villanova roster and coaching staff, not to mention the incoming recruiting class. Continuity is the key word with this entire situation and Wright laid it out in his two public posts last night – saying that he is “excited to remain a part of Villanova” and later that Neptune “understands our culture and will keep it strong.”
In short, this hire was never going outside the Villanova family and Neptune was the only candidate who offered both recent success as a head coach and direct ties to the current program.
2. Why Now?
While many people are still wondering why Jay Wright opted to step away at just 60 years of age, which is still relatively young by college coaching standards, once his decision was made, the immediate timing of determining his successor was absolutely critical. May 1st is the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal and having any type of gap without a head coach in place, with the deadline on the horizon, could have motivated players to enter to portal, even if to only keep their options open.
3. What is Villanova’s top priority?
With Neptune now on board, and Wright undoubtedly overseeing the transition (the team’s post-season awards ceremony was already scheduled for Thursday night and now a press conference will follow on Friday morning), the top priority is maintaining continuity with the current roster and keeping everyone in a Villanova uniform. Presumably, that begins with the assistant coaches who have all worked with Neptune in the past, and extends to the current roster and then the incoming recruiting class. Caleb Daniels, Brandon Slater, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree were all seniors on this year’s Final Four team, but all technically have a year of eligibility remaining. That trio, and Slater in particular, could offer the type of veteran leadership necessary to ease this transition. Justin Moore and Eric Dixon could also be key returners, despite the Achilles injury Moore suffered in the Elite Eight. Bryan Antoine, Trey Patterson, and Jordan Longino were all key recruits who should have an opportunity to step into bigger roles next season while Chris Arcidiacono saw steady rotation minutes and will be a key returner because of both that and the family legacy (he is the younger brother of former star Ryan Arcidiacono).
4. Who is the top recruiting priority?
Neptune needs to prioritize the current roster but simultaneously re-recruit the incoming recruiting class, particularly Cam Whitmore. Wright will undoubtedly help and so too should the rest of the remaining staff, but the reality is that Whitmore is a McDonald’s All-American who has ascended up national boards at a rapid rate within the last year and continued to impress people, including NBA scouts, during the recent McDonald’s All-American Game and other post-season events. Should he elect to re-open his recruitment, he’d likely have his choice of destinations, so Neptune-and-company needs to convince him that things are largely still the same. Mark Armstrong is another top 100 talent from St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey who is also very important. He has the perimeter size that Villanova covets, skill, playmaking tools, and the ability to play on or off the ball. Then there’s Brendan Hausen, a shot-maker from the state of Texas who specializes in stretching the floor from behind the three-point line.
5. What will Villanova recruiting look like moving forward?
Wright’s recruiting blueprint was clear over the years. He wanted to dominate the northeast region – from New England down through the DMV – and priority players who fit his culture, played and defended multiple positions, and had the skill-set and shooting ability to stretch the floor. There were, of course, some exceptions, but not many.
Another characteristic of Villanova recruiting in recent years is that they’ve historically done their work early – targeting, prioritizing, and ultimately landing the players who fit their mold before other programs are able to make much progress. Ironically though, in 2023 that hasn’t been the case. They are reportedly in very good position with DeShawn Harris-Smith, a powerful southpaw wing from Paul VI in Virginia and the same Team Takeover program that produced Slater and Moore.
The major local priority is five-star wing Justin Edwards, who is also a priority for John Calipari and Kentucky. Thus, Edwards offers Neptune an opportunity similar to the one that Jon Scheyer had last summer with the likes of Kyle Filipowski and Dariq Whitehead. If he can land the priority recruit over an established blueblood like Kentucky, among others, it would send a significant message to the rest of the recruiting world about the continuation of the Villanova brand under Neptune’s leadership and his ability to go head-to-head with anyone from day one.
Beyond that, there is a relatively blank slate for he and his staff to explore as they will undoubtedly prioritize the same things that has made Villanova the program they are today – culture, skill, and defensive versatility.