LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Jay Wright ’83, a former member of the Bucknell men’s basketball team and currently a national-championship-winning coach at Villanova, returned to campus last Thursday night for a talk as part of the 2017 Walling Speaker Series. The event was held in collaboration with Bucknell’s College of Management, and Dean of the College of Management Raquel Alexander hosted the 90-minute, Q&A-style conversation.
The session began with a question about what sets Villanova’s program apart, and Wright quickly turned to the character of his student-athletes, which is something that he and his staff spend considerable time investigating during the recruiting process.
“We all want to compete and be successful in everything we do,” Wright said. “What separates us from all the others who are trying to do the same thing is the character of our players. That character comes from something deeper than basketball. It comes from how they were raised and what they believe in. It all adds up to the culture of your program. We have a sign in our locker room that says, ‘You become us; We don’t become you.”
Wright said that the four simple values that he tries to impart on his team – play hard, play together, play smart, and play with pride – are not just about basketball. “That’s how we want you to live your life,” he tells his players.
Many of the keys to success that Wright discussed correlate well to the concepts discussed with current Bison student-athletes in the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Institute, many of whom were in attendance for the talk.
“Coach Wright shared so many great messages with our student-athletes,” said Lauren Wicklund, associate director of athletics for leadership development. “He talked directly about being authentic and accountable, about taking ownership in everything that you do in life. Those are some of the core competencies that we stress to student-athletes in their quest to become champion leaders.
“The notion of humility – being humble and hungry as he called it -- was big for me in terms of leadership,” Wicklund added. “His comment that ‘there are two types of people in the world, those that are humble and those that are about to be humbled,’ is something that resonated with me, as leadership is about serving others.”
“The biggest message that I got from Jay Wright's talk was that he has developed a culture at Villanova where he recruits players that are willing to let go of their ego and buy in to the program,” said football linebacker Ben Richard, who is a member of the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Institute. “He explained how the player fits into the program, and not how the program fits around the player. I believe that is a very important detail in how Coach Wright has built all of his successful teams in the past and why his teams will be very successful for years to come.”
Throughout the evening, Wright was asked to weigh in on a myriad of topics, among them the current NCAA landscape, Title IX, amateurism in college athletics, and student-athletes dealing with mental health issues. With many Philadelphia-area natives attending Bucknell, the Villanova fans in the room naturally asked for a breakdown of the final moments of the wild 2016 NCAA championship game, in which the Wildcats lost a late lead to North Carolina, only to win the game on a buzzer-beater by Kris Jenkins.
Wright even waxed nostalgic about his days at Bucknell in the early 1980s, fondly recalling his time in Sigma Chi, “Jan Plan”, and professors who inspired him to become a better student.
“As I look back on it, when I came to Bucknell I was so overwhelmed and unprepared,” Wright remembered. “But Bucknell helped me grow up as a person, as a teammate, and as a student.”
“It was great to have Coach Wright here,” said senior Nana Foulland of the Bucknell men’s basketball team and also a member of the Bucknell Athletics Leadership Institute. “Listening to him speak, it’s easy to see why he has been so successful. I especially liked his comments about always having a positive attitude regardless of what is going on around you. As a senior and now one of the leaders on our team, I am always talking to the younger guys about that. Practice and conditioning can be very hard, but your approach and your attitude can’t change.”
“We are all extremely proud to be associated with Coach Wright,” said head men’s basketball coach Nathan Davis. “The success that he has attained throughout his career, highlighted by a national championship at Villanova, has been incredible. And best of all, he has done it the right way, with class and with a sincere focus on educating his players. I hope that his experience at Bucknell has shaped who he is as a coach, because those are many of the same values that provide the backbone of our program here today.”
Wright is now in his 16th season as head coach at Villanova. Over the last four years, the Wildcats have claimed four consecutive Big East regular-season championships, a pair of Big East Tournament titles (2015 and 2017) and the 2016 NCAA national championship. Wright, who also took Villanova to the Final Four in 2009, is a two-time winner of the Naismith National Coach of the Year award (2006 and 2016).
At Bucknell, Wright was a three-year varsity letterman under Coach Charlie Woollum. He was the team’s leading scorer in 1981-82, when he averaged 11.9 points per game. He earned the Benton A. Kribbs Award as the team’s most valuable player that year, and then as a senior in 1982-83 he served as team co-captain and received the Malcolm A. Musser Award for Leadership.
The Fitz Roy and Mary Jane Walling Management Endowment was established in 2006 by Fitz Roy '46 and Mary Jane Walling. The fund supports management education at Bucknell, especially by funding the visits and lectures of scholars and experts in management to Bucknell students and faculty.