Interstate 95 Serves as Recruiting Pipeline for Villanova's Wright
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Jay Wright drives through the tax-free shopping in Delaware, drives over the Susquehanna River nearing the Chesapeake Bay and drives past Cal Ripken's minor league stadium in Aberdeen, Md. The commute from Philadelphia to Washington requires little variance, mostly a straight shot 2 hours 15 minutes down Interstate 95. It's a route that Wright, the Villanova men's basketball coach, has become increasingly accustomed to taking.
Villanova, the third seed in the NCAA tournament's East Region, plays 14th-seeded American tomorrow in the first round. The Wildcats will likely start a lineup that includes three Washington area products: senior forwards Dante Cunningham (St. John's, D.C., and Potomac, Md.), Dwayne Anderson (St. John's) and junior guard Scottie Reynolds (Herndon).
The Washington-to-Wildcats pipeline also includes freshman big man Maurice Sutton (Largo) and walk-on Jason Colenda (Bishop O'Connell). Villanova assistant coach Jason Donnelly was an assistant coach at O'Connell from 1999 to 2005. Manager of basketball operations Keith Urgo came to the Wildcats from Gonzaga High School. Two of Villanova's top recruits next season are Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou, both from Montrose Christian.
"The kind of player you get from the D.C. area is very unique," Wright said. "They have outstanding high school programs there, coaches who work with their guys all year round. The high school basketball is so important, and you put that with some of the top AAU programs."
Wright said the AAU teams work together with the high schools more in Washington than in any other area. Both Anderson and Cunningham are products of D.C. Assault, one of the nation's elite AAU teams.
"Jay has been a great recruiter, which has been one of his strong points," D.C. Assault co-founder Curtis Malone said. "His staff does a good job, the guys they have had the most interest in turned out successful, so they paid our area close attention."
Villanova considers the I-95 corridor -- from New York through New Jersey, into Philadelphia, then down to Baltimore and the Washington area -- its recruiting base. Donnelly estimated that his time spent recruiting is split evenly between north of Philadelphia, in Philadelphia and south of Philadelphia.
Therefore, the Wildcats consider the Washington area equally as vital as the other hotbeds.
"No doubt," Donnelly said. "Our whole key is New York to D.C."
It took effort to entrench the Villanova brand into the consciousness of Washington's top players. Wright said the signing of Anderson started the pipeline. The Wildcats were considering a handful of players when Anderson was a junior at St. John's in 2002-03. Joe Jones, then an assistant at Villanova, continued to raise Anderson's name. Jones had heard of Anderson from a Washington area AAU coach and was impressed with Anderson and his family.
"I thought he was a high-character kid," said Jones, now the head coach at Columbia. "Did I imagine him as tough as he has become? No. But I thought he would be able to help the program."
While recruiting Anderson, the Wildcats got themselves on Cunningham's radar because he and Anderson teamed together at St. John's. Commitments from two local prospects -- combined with a run to a region final in the 2006 NCAA tournament -- enhanced the luster of the Wildcats' program. Wright spoke at camps in the Washington area and established connections, in turn leaving an impression on both players and coaches.