BUFFALO - Jay Wright possibly was just being kind when he said he had forgotten just how special the NCAA Tournament is for players. "We've been doing this a long time," the Villanova coach said, offering his explanation.
Truth is, he has excellent powers of recall, which made his trip here more meaningful for him. Bringing his second-seeded Wildcats to Buffalo meant going deep into his coaching roots, to his first job out of college. He was an assistant coach at the University of Rochester, and he remembers just about everything about it.
"I recruited Greg Winick from Canisius Prep. I used to come here every night and go to the Anchor Bar and get wings," said Wright, whose team faced Milwaukee in the late game Thursday night. "And that kid, what happened? He went to Canisius instead of the University of Rochester."
That's the thing about the NCAA Tournament for coaches. They take whatever jobs they can and work their way up so they can be in this showcase.
Maybe Wright is right. After 30 years of this (including seven at Hofstra), a coach can lose track of the freshness. It just didn't sound like it when he was talking about his earliest coaching days. "I was amazed how big Division III basketball is here," he said Wednesday.
"Jeff Van Gundy was playing at Nazareth when I was here. And John Beilein was coaching at Le Moyne," he said, referring to the former Knicks coach and current University of Michigan coach, respectively. "It was a great time. I have a lot of good friends from up here."
On this trip, he was preparing Villanova after being shocked right out of the Big East Tournament by Seton Hall, and getting the Wildcats ready for Milwaukee. He was wary about the opponent's star guard, Jordan Aaron of the Bronx.
"We've benefited probably as much as any coaching staff in the country from having great New York City guards, even from back in our days at Hofstra, with Speedy Claxton, who he reminds me of a little bit," said Wright, a coach who doesn't forget.