As the confetti hit the floor of the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, it was hard not to look ahead for fans of the Villanova Wildcats.
Though the ‘Cats had just won their second national championship in three seasons, there didn’t appear to be an immediate end in sight for what was becoming a dynastic run for Jay Wright’s program.
Eventual National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson was clearly NBA bound, as was star two-way wing Mikal Bridges, but Villanova was still set to return to the 2018 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player in Donte DiVincenzo. Not to mention, talented big man Omari Spellman and a slew of auxiliary talent including Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and versatile forward Eric Paschall.
Then things changed.
Both DiVincenzo and Spellman began to fly up draft boards following strong postseasons, and the former was being projected by some to be taken in the lottery after a good showing at the NBA Draft Combine.
After weeks of speculation, each of the two hired agents and entered their names into the 2018 NBA Draft.
On June 21, Bridges, DiVincenzo and Spellman went in the first round of the draft and Brunson was taken by the Spurs early in the second round, giving Wright and his Wildcats four selections in the first 33 picks.
Those four players accounted for 58.7 percent of Nova’s points a season ago.
Now the attention shifts.
A Wildcats team was considered by many to be a favorite to go back-to-back, something that hasn’t been done since Florida in 2006 and 2007, now must find a way to replace a quarter of their key contributors.
Villanova remains at 8-1 to repeat, the same odds it opened at according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, but must develop a crop of new talent if it wants to do so.
Still plying their trade on the Main Line are the aforementioned Booth, Gillespie and Paschall. Joining them as key returnees are forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and athletic wing Jermaine Samuels.
Gillespie will likely assume the starting point guard role manned by Brunson for the past three seasons, but he’ll be pushed for the spot by incoming freshman Jahvon Quinerly.
Quinerly, like Brunson, is five-star prospect who participated in the McDonald’s All-American Game alongside some of the nation’s best prospects. He makes the short trip to suburban Philadelphia from Jersey City, New Jersey (Hudson Catholic) where he averaged 20.4 points and 5.4 assists per game as a senior.
Joining him in the Wildcats’ impressive 2018 class are sharpshooting forward Cole Swider (Barrington, RI/St. Andrews School) and bouncy wing Brandon Slater (Fairfax, VA/Paul VI), both of whom were four-star prospects and could see the court right immediately.
Wright will have his work cut out for him with the 2018-19 edition of the Wildcats, but the cupboard is far from barren and the now two-time national champ has shown he’s more than capable of pulling all the right strings.