Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / On Sports / Former UR assistant Jay Wright continues working his hoops magic

Former UR assistant Jay Wright continues working his hoops magic

Mike Neer likes to joke that he doesn’t get enough credit for helping Jay Wright become the best-dressed coach in college basketball.

“He showed up for his job interview at the University of Rochester back in 1984 in bib overalls and bare feet,” Neer said the other day, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “And I set him on the path to sartorial splendor.”

Actually, the GQ suits Wright famously donned on game days before this season’s movement to coaches in sweats were all Wright’s doing. See, the man who bears a striking resemblance to actor George Clooney has always been a fashion plate. Neer had nothing to do with that. But the winningest coach in UR history definitely had something to do with launching and molding a career that has seen Wright make the improbable journey from Rochester’s Palestra to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Wright has his Villanova team in the NCAA Final Four for the third time in seven seasons, and it won’t be surprising if he publicly expresses his gratitude to the man he refers to as “a basketball genius” at the press conferences in New Orleans this week. Last September, he invited Neer to his Hall of Fame induction, and made mention of him in his acceptance speech. The shout-outs are justified because Neer took a huge gamble when he hired Wright to be his full-time assistant 38 years ago.

“Mike was the first guy who gave me a job,’’ Wright said a few years ago, after winning his first of two national championships at Villanova. “I didn’t know anything about coaching. Nothing. Until I got with him.”

He obviously paid rapt attention during his two seasons in the Flower City, absorbing everything he could from a guy who is one of only 14 coaches in Division III history with at least 600 victories. “He was a sponge,” Neer recalled. “Had tremendous curiosity, tremendous energy, and tremendous people skills. Did I think he would become the giant in the coaching field he’s become? Nobody could have predicted that. But what he’s achieved certainly doesn’t surprise me.”

Truth be told, Wright was Neer’s second choice. He initially offered the UR job to Pat Flannery, then a Drexel assistant, and Flannery was ready to accept it.

“He wound up going back to Drexel, and phoned me that he was going to stay put because they had sweetened the pot,’’ Neer said. “But during that phone conversation, Pat put in a plug for Jay. Like Pat, Jay had played at Bucknell, and he said Jay was dying to get into coaching and would work his tail off and be a great hire. I said I’d give him a call, but the fact he had no coaching experience was a red flag.”

At the time, Wright was working selling tickets for the Philadelphia Stars of the old United States Football League. Neer brought him to town for an interview. The retired UR coach recalled their conversation unfolding this way:

“I said, “Jay you have no experience. You could fit your resume on a file card. I see you’ve worked in sales. Can you tell me if you made sales?’’ And, he said, “Well, I just sold four tickets to a family in Wilkes-Barre.” That cracked me up. I knew this was going to a long shot, but there was something about him that I really liked. Coaching, when you boil it down, is a sales pitch; you’re selling something you want kids to buy. I thought maybe Jay’s skills would translate, so I took a chance.”

He would not be disappointed. Wright poured himself into his job, especially recruiting, where he spent many a night traveling the main and back roads of Western New York in search of talented players. After two years under Neer, the young man from suburban Philadelphia headed home to coach at Drexel as an assistant for two seasons before landing his dream job on the staff of Villanova icon Rollie Massimino.

Wright spent eight seasons with Massimino (including three at UNLV) before becoming head coach at Hofstra University. The first thing he did was visit Neer and Flannery so he could pick their brains about how to build a program from scratch. Wright would lead Hofstra to two NCAA tournaments, and in 2001 was named head coach at Villanova.

He guided the Wildcats to NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018, and an argument can be made that he’s not only the best dressed coach in college basketball, but also the best coach, period. As Neer says proudly, “Jay’s teams are so fundamentally sound, they almost never lose a game because they’ve shot themselves in the foot. And he does what a coach is supposed to do; he maximizes the talents of his players as well as, if not better, than any coach I know.”

Sadly, for the second consecutive year, Villanova has lost a starter to injury at the most inopportune time. Without do-it-all guard Justin Moore, the Wildcats will have a tough time in their Saturday semifinal against Kansas, and an even tougher time should they advance to Monday’s finals against the winner of Duke-North Carolina.

“The loss of Justin and their shallow bench makes the likelihood of them beating two really good teams in a row problematic,’’ Neer said. “But each of these teams has flaws, and if were to come down to coaching, I’d like my chances with Jay, which is saying something, considering this field includes Hall-of-Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self, and a rookie, in Hubert Davis, who’s got his Carolina team on a roll.”

His analysis admittedly is a tad biased, but it’s also spot-on. Like Neer, I believe few coaches have ever been better at squeezing the best out of their players than the man whose career tipped off in Rochester nearly four decades ago.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

One comment

  1. Great article Scott. Well done.

x

Check Also

Tips for planning a business succession  (access required)

Planning for retirement and creating a contingency plan in the event of an unexpected exit from the workforce are critical ...

Tricks to sustaining the family trade: Succession planning scenarios to expect (access required)

We all know how a business can feel like our child. You spend many years — even decades — nurturing ...

Succession plans critical for survival of family-owned businesses (access required)

While family-owned businesses are commonplace in the United States, those that are multigenerational remain rare gems. According to Cornell University’s ...

Is your strategic plan both strategic and a plan? (access required)

There is a lot of discussion about strategic planning in not-for-profit circles lately. Evidently, moving through a global pandemic and ...

What’s so great about the 2022 Great Places to Work? (access required)

It’s my favorite time of year: Great Place to Work just announced the 25th Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work ...

Loyalty programs – what you should know about compliance with the CPPA (access required)

From the straightforward “buy 9 smoothies, get 1 free,” to sophisticated frequent flyer programs, loyalty programs are a staple in ...

Are cover letters really necessary? Hiring professionals have differing opinions (access required)

“I’m a hiring manager at a local company looking to fill several positions. I’ve noticed that about two-thirds of our ...

Investment acumen or inside information? (access required)

If you had known, in early 2020, that you might be working from home during a multi-year, global pandemic, would ...

The importance of female mentorship, leadership, and innovation in banking (access required)

In my 10 years at Tompkins and 35 cumulative years in the banking field, I’ve witnessed the industry undergo several ...

How not to set policy to reduce the price of gasoline (access required)

High gas prices in the U.S. cause a lot of pain for Americans every time they take their vehicles to ...

Highland Hospital Gala (access required)

This year’s casino-themed Highland Hospital Gala raised its second highest amount ever, with more than $650,000 gross net income thanks ...

Inflation: How did we get here and what can be done about it? (access required)

If you’re in your 50s - o.k. early 50s - you probably remember a time when a gallon of gas ...

Reflections on pediatrics, the pandemic, and the Golden Circle (access required)

Imagine this: Your business has been open for only five months and is doing really well. Revenue is higher than ...

Will 2022 be the year of the vacation home? (access required)

With some COVID-19 restrictions relaxing and others already lifted, the smell of tourism is in the air. Demand for leisure ...

Transition services valuable for aging population (access required)

What do you need to stay safe in your family home, even if your home is getting to be too ...

Elder transition planning: Family mediation for older adults & their loved ones (access required)

The journey of aging is rarely a smooth one. As older adults and their families face emotional, financial and health ...

Senior living communities consider how to be more diverse, inclusive, accessible (access required)

The nation’s senior population is the largest and most diverse in history, according to the most recent census data from ...

Why is inflation so scary for my retirement plan? (access required)

Over the past decade, investors experienced a best-case scenario of relatively low inflation and strong investment returns from both stocks ...

A thoroughbred racehorse whose impact was not lost on us

It seemed like a good deal at the time – a rattletrap Ford van with more than 100,000 miles on ...

Ensuring your financial plan can withstand negative conditions  (access required)

Financial plans differ based on individuals’ incomes, future goals, age and tolerance for risk, but often unconsidered in those plans ...

Boomerang employees: tips on how to welcome team members home (access required)

Every manager at every level has experienced it — that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when one ...

Spring cleaning: Considering program sustainability (access required)

There has never been a better time to consider the sustainability of your program activities and take action to address ...

Financial advisors can guide through tough times (access required)

With the country facing rising inflation and interest rates, as well as the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the war in ...

Are you discriminating against employees with caregiving responsibilities? (access required)

As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a warning ...

Rochester accelerates its pace to become top tech hub in America (access required)

Rochester is on its way to becoming a national hub for technology innovation. Experts predict that it has the highest ...

A simple game for investors: How would you play? (access required)

Some years ago, financial author and advisor, Bill Schultheis, devised a simple game to illustrate the difficulty faced by investors ...

You need to improve your technology, but where do you start? (access required)

Technology is advancing at warp speed and certainly some innovations could benefit you and your company, but it’s easy to ...

Innovation advancements on display as Rochester continues to grow its technology ecosystem (access required)

From LIDROTEC, a company with patent-pending wafer dicing laser machines for the semiconductor industry to Stratio, which provides artificial intelligence ...

Milo the Dog has had a golden impact on Red Wings baseball, community

They had trained together five days a week for nearly six months in the backyard solitude of Josh Snyder’s rural ...

M&A middle-market activity: What businesses need to know (access required)

 Understanding the ins and outs, trends and activities going on in M&A markets can help businesses make informed decisions including ...

5 things to consider before deciding to work for yourself (access required)

When people ask me what I do, now that I’m out of television, I simply say, “I have my own ...

M&A lawyers keep busy despite pandemic barriers (access required)

2021 was a record-breaking year globally and nationally for mergers (combining two separate businesses into one new legal entity) and ...

Ending violent crime requires building trust between police, community (access required)

Rochester has recently been the recipient of many state, federal and private investments that create a true path for transformational ...

Four ways to prepare your business for the future of digital payments (access required)

Digital transformation continues to sweep the country — especially as more companies and their customers embrace digital payment technologies.Here are ...

Managing Our Manufacturing Plants in 2022 (access required)

There have been dramatic shifts in both the needs and the realities of manufacturing the United States over the past ...

“Rounding Errors” Can Add Up Quickly (access required)

It’s time to talk about time. For many employees, their lunch break is a time when they can step away ...

Just In Time production method becoming obsolete with supply chain issues (access required)

Just In Time (JIT) is a production method pioneered in the 1930s by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means to ...

Rochester firms embrace 3D printing for multiple purposes (access required)

Firms are using 3D printing to create unique tools, parts and other objects right here in Rochester, allowing for new ...

From mentee to mentor: the benefits mentorship provides for women in business (access required)

March marks Women’s History Month. It is a time to honor the strong, brave women who have broken down barriers, ...

Working across the ages: multigenerational teams offer multiple benefits (access required)

Quick: How long is the average career? If you guessed 40 years, you would’ve been right a few years ago. ...

Energy, dedication drive entrepreneurs at any age (access required)

Younger women who grew up with technology and worked in the gig economy may be more comfortable with the pace ...

Opining on Brandon Beane, SU hoops, a poor investment, baseball’s return

If you pressed me to rank the most indispensable Buffalo Bills of this glorious era, I’d go with quarterback Josh ...

Topics that don’t focus on COVID-19 for nonprofit leaders (access required)

For obvious reasons, COVID-19-19 and the many elements of disruption it has caused continue to dominate conversation at organizations of ...

March worldwide water, climate events are close to home (access required)

March marks two worldwide awareness events for the environment: World Water Day and Earth Hour. In Rochester, New York, these ...

Revisiting Art Schlichter’s sad tale of gambling addiction

Monday’s seismic news that Atlanta Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley had been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on ...

Mentoring is an art passed from one generation to the next (access required)

Ahhh, what to say about the important art of mentoring? It is certainly an art and, in preparation for this ...

Protect intellectual property from the start (access required)

When it comes to intellectual property (IP), the old English idiom “penny wise and pound foolish” never goes out of ...

A loving team helped Chris Lillis ascend to Winter Olympic gold

Bernie Lillis points with pride to a framed photograph on the mantelpiece above the fireplace of his Fairport home. There ...

Three takeaways from Super Bowl ads to apply to marketing (access required)

Super Bowl ads deliver on a few recurring themes every year, and this year was no different. Whether it’s nostalgia ...

I Bonds: A rare bright spot for the income investor (access required)

Investors have a natural affinity for income-producing investments. A steady stream of investment income is comforting even if it is ...

What AG report on ‘credential stuffing’ hacks mean for your business (access required)

In January, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report summarizing the findings of a broad investigation into so-called ...

Data privacy and security concerns with rise of online betting, gaming (access required)

As of January 8, 2022, New York State joined the ranks of more than a dozen states that have legalized ...

Potential headwinds are coming — what this means for your business (access required)

An abundance of liquidity and market exuberance in the world’s recovery from COVID-19 have made this a promising time for ...

Rochester’s Roland Williams hoping his Rams do it again

Eric Weddle is one of those feel-good stories that Rochester tight-end-turned-broadcaster Roland Williams has followed closely in recent weeks. Late ...

FLLT acquires Bell Station property along Cayuga Lake  (access required)

The Finger Lakes Land Trust has purchased the 480-acre Bell Station property, featuring 3,400 feet of pristine Cayuga Lake shoreline, ...

G.W. Lisk company selected as supplier for NASA project   (access required)

Island Components Group, a G.W. Lisk company, has been selected as a supplier for NASA’s Mars Sample Return program.  Island ...

When business gets slow it’s time to train your staff (access required)

By the time April 2020 came around, we found ourselves at Flower City Communications as perplexed as every other business. ...