Jay Wright, the uber-popular two-time NCAA national champion men’s basketball coach for Villanova, is known for being an incredible basketball coach, as well as having a great sense of style, and a love for his family and Philadelphia.
A portrait of Jay Wright, courtesy of Hugh E. Dillon.
He can now add Hall of Famer and an assistant Olympic coach to his already impressive list of accomplishments.
On May 16, Wright joined former NBA players Chris Bosh, Chris Webber and WNBA stars Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson as having been chosen for the 2021 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, with an induction ceremony to occur later this fall.
But first, Wright is going for the gold at the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23. He will serve as one of the assistant coaches for the U.S. men’s national basketball team.
Here, Wright gives Philadelphia Style the inside scoop on his upcoming summer plans, his family, and his favorite things to do and see in Philly.
Tell us about your trip to the Olympics.
It will hopefully be the most fun we’ve had in a long time, as I’m going to be one of the assistant coaches for the U.S. men’s national basketball team. That will take up most of my summer from the middle of July until August. I hope our team is good; I hope we come back with the gold. (The Olympics will run from July 23 - August 8 on NBC.)
How are you starting to prepare for a fall basketball season?
We have two great seniors coming back from their extra senior year—Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. And Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree possibly, if he gets healthy (from the fracture in his leg.) We have a lot of great freshmen coming in. The (current students just finished) finals now, and will be working out all summer to be prepared for the fall. We expect things to be normal in the fall and we are looking forward to it.
As AP Men’s Coach of the Decade and winning two NCAA basketball championships, you have already accomplished so much. Who inspires you and what motivates you to be the best of the best?
I’m really not motivated to be best of the best— I’m really passionate about each day. Those things you mentioned are in the past, we are proud of…but we really concentrate on living in the moment. I love coming in each day, being with these guys, and making the team the best it can be today. Going through the process is what inspires me. I love it every day.
What inspired you to get involved with the Philadelphia Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising events (part of the American Cancer Society) and how has the charity helped the Philadelphia community?
Phil Martelli (former head men’s basketball coach of St. Joe’s Hawks) and Fran Dunphy (former head men’s basketball coach of Temple and UPenn) really inspired all of us to get involved and built this machine Philadelphia Coaches vs. Cancer (www.phillycvc.org) to what it is. UPenn’s current head men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue is leading it now. All the coaches are so proud to work with these guys (on this charity.)
One of our inspirations was G. Fred DiBona, Jr., former president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, who was our first corporate sponsor. We went to visit him in his office and it was important for him to sponsor our event, because he had cancer. It was a really touching day. It is amazing that Fred started all of the corporate sponsorship that we now enjoy (today.)
His family has a charity called Fred’s Footsteps (www.fredsfootsteps.org) in his memory, and Independence Blue Cross continues to be a top sponsor of our Philadelphia Coaches vs. Cancer events. They are a great inspiration to us. We have raised over $1 million dollars every year, and the money comes right back to the Philadelphia community and the American Cancer Society in fighting cancer in this area.
Are your game day suits bespoke or off the rack? Where do you buy them? What qualities do you look for in buying a suit?
I had a long-time tailor Gabe D’Annunzio from D&B Tailors (in Newtown Square) who always made my suits and picked out all the materials. He ended up passing this year due to Covid, and it was ironic we weren’t wearing suits this year. I love the Italian look and Gabe always picked the stylish suits for me. I think, going forward, we might stick with the coaching sweats and outfits, it’s kind of a tribute to Gabe, but also, it’s the next step in coaching to look more athletic and less businesslike on the sidelines.
You’ve been the men’s basketball coach at Villanova for over 20 years. What is it that you love about Nova?
I just feel so blessed to be the coach here. I love the tradition of this program and this University. I was always a fan as a kid. In the days of Jack Kraft as a coach, and Howard Porter, Chris Ford, Tom Ingelsby, Ed Hastings, Clarence Smith, Hank Siemiontkowski in the early ‘70s, Mike Stack, Whitey Rigsby, John Pinone, all the greats, Rory Sparrow, and Keith Herron.
To be the coach of this great program is still a dream for me. And what’s kept me here is that I love the mission of the University, and it fits my mission as a coach to make these young men the best students, the best men, and the best basketball players they can be.
And this University’s commitment to these guys as students and growing as men that are committed to be part of this community, and being part of something bigger than themselves, is something that fits our team.
So when what you want to do as a coach fits the University’s mission as a whole, you’ve got something really special. The Augustinian values here at Villanova do that. They inspire our players, which allow us to do that as well. It’s just a great fit for me and my family.
Photography by: Hugh E. Dillon