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Villanova coach had Wright stuff in Rochester

March 28, 2016
Mike Neer and Jay Wright

Mike Neer (left) and Jay Wright.

Long before he was recognized as one of the nation’s top Division I men’s basketball coaches, Villanova University’s Jay Wright was cutting his basketball teeth on the River Campus.

Wright served as a Yellowjackets assistant under Mike Neer from 1984-86. The former Bucknell player was only 23 when he came to Rochester, with a resume consisting mainly of basketball camp counselor roles. But Neer loved his energy, calling him “the original Facebook” for his ability to connect with people.

Neer took his protégé to the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky, and the two watched as Philadelphia-based Villanova upset powerful Georgetown in the championship game. Saturday evening in Houston, Wright will lead Villanova into a semifinal matchup against favored Oklahoma, with his team just two victories from a national title. It’s Villanova’s first trip to the Final Four since 2009.

Wright’s typical day at Rochester in the mid-1980s consisted of 6 a.m. practices, overseeing intramural games during the day and coaching the junior varsity in late afternoon. At night, he would go out to various high school gyms and recruit before heading to Nick Tahou’s restaurant to eat a famed garbage plate – a combination of cheeseburgers, home fries and macaroni salad.

Wright became a division assistant at Drexel, Villanova, and Nevada-Las Vegas before landing his first head coaching job at Hofstra in 1994. He took over at Villanova in 2001.

His record with the Wildcats is 352-157 (.692 winning percentage).

The impeccably dressed Wright, 54, has been a multiple winner of GQ magazine’s Fashionable Four, given to the best-dressed coaches in America.

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