Knicks: Could Villanova legend Jay Wright be the next head coach?

Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, New York Knicks
Dec 13, 2016; Villanova, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Josh Hart (3) gets congratulations from head coach Jay Wright and guard Jalen Brunson (1) after leaving the game late in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion. Villanova defeated Temple, 78-57. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Retired two-time NCAA champion head coach, Jay Wright looked ecstatic this past weekend as he attended the wedding of New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson. Wright had coached Brunson during their shared time at Villanova when they won two championships together in 2016 and 2018. Brunson is now an ascending star for the Knicks after a breakout 2022 campaign.

But Brunson is not the only former Wildcat to have recently joined the Knicks. Former Wildcats Josh Hart and soon Donte DiVincenzo will also ingratiate themselves in the heart of Knicks fans this upcoming season. But for now, Wright, Hart, and DiVincenzo are taking a break from basketball as they celebrate a major achievement in Brunson’s life.

Could Jay Wright’s Villanova connections make him the ideal Knicks head coach candidate?

Wright, widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, has been instrumental in providing players with opportunities beyond the “one and done” approach. His leadership cultivated a family-like atmosphere within the Wildcats. Now, with three members of that family playing for the Knicks, it may be only a matter of time before the former two-time Naismith College Coach of the Year is calling the plays on the sidelines in Madison Square Garden.

Thom Thibodeau has established a strict, defensive-minded culture in New York

Under head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have established a defensive-minded culture that does not waver for any player. Thibodeau will go as far as sitting healthy players to ensure he does not stray away from his game plan. If a player is not willing to buy into Coach Thibs’ culture, it has been shown in the reduced playing time the coaching staff allocates to them.

Both Derrick Rose and Evan Fournier became unplayable by Thibodeau’s standards to the dismay of many Knicks fans this past season. During crucial moments, he rarely went to either of them for their veteran presence or shotmaking ability.

However, this steadfast approach has proven to be a culture-setter, leading the team to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Some players struggle to integrate into Thibodeau’s system

While Thibs’ philosophies have resulted in wins and revitalized the Knicks, the question remains whether he will adapt to the struggles of his players. Both RJ Barrett and Julius Randle experienced slumps during the playoffs as their batteries began to run low. But Thibodeau would not adjust the game plan to account for his stars’ fatigue.

During his time as head coach of the Chicago Bulls, Thibodeau would play Derrick Rose in playoff blowouts when the former league MVP should have been resting on the bench. The most notable occurrence was when Rose tore his ACL in a postseason victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012.

Thibodeau was criticized for his decision to leave Rose in the game while Chicago held a sizeable lead. However, the next season, Thibs led the Bulls to a 45-37 record, earning them the fifth seed in the East.

This moment in Chicago made it clear that Thibodeau’s game plan is set in stone. The Knicks’ players will need to buy into Thibodeau’s culture if they want to succeed with Coach Thibs at the helm.

Jay Wright to the Knicks: A long time coming?

Thibodeau’s abrasive coaching style and inconsistent postseason performances have placed some heat on his seat as head coach of the Knicks. If the team does decide to make a change at head coach, the team should look no further than Jay Wright.

Wright has won a national title with all of Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Josh Hart. Following Donte’s most recent signing with New York, social media began to buzz with the idea that Coach Wright may be on his way to New York. But the idea of Wright to New York is not new. In the midst of the 2020 NBA season, Forbes NBA insider Adam Zagoria hinted at the Knicks’ interest in Wright, saying, “There is a strong possibility that Jay Wright in New York could happen.”

Despite the Knicks seeking a replacement for then-head coach Mike Miller, Jay Wright chose to remain loyal to Villanova, declining the opportunity two years earlier. “It’s the Knicks,” Wright said in 2018. “You love the Garden, you love New York City, you love the Knicks. I just know I don’t want to leave Villanova.”

However, now retired from the NCAA, it may only be a matter of time before this legendary coach makes his mark on the culture of the New York Knicks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @DavinMcFarland7