I get the looks all over town. General unease at best. Outright scowls, seething anger, gritted teeth, and barely contained rage at worst. Every now and again and for a few instants, the placidness of our beautiful little town is broken and the passion of its denizens overtakes their inherent kindness.
I’m a die-hard Villanova fan, a proud alum of a Villanova family, and I live in the center of Chapel Hill. And whenever I wear the dark blue and white, my Nova colors, around town, I can feel everyone looking, wishing very bad things might befall me.
I get it. I really do. My team tore your collective hearts from your chests just two years ago, and, with a Kris Jenkins shot that is now etched in history, sent Carolina packing.
And maybe because of that, you’ll find yourselves with a vindictive streak tonight, rooting for Michigan, hoping Villanova gets a taste of what they handed all of you just two short years ago.
But listen, we Wildcats are not that bad. We’re actually pretty decent people. A lot of us go on to do much good in the world. We’re schooled in the Augustinian tradition of service, community, and the common good, and we take those values wherever we go, employing them in whatever we do.
And our basketball program? Heck, they’re a really tremendous group. In fact, if there ever was a team to root for, it might as well be our Wildcats. After all, we’re not so different than your Tar Heels.
Beyond that whole Kris Jenkins thing, there are a ton of reasons that Villanova’s program is one of America’s most likable teams.
Here are just a few.
1. Jay Wright runs a clean program.
Outside of a single silly scandal a few years back regarding long-distance phone calls (yes, really), Coach Jay’s teams have never even come close to trouble. In sixteen seasons helming a marquee program, Coach Jay has steered his ship clear of drama, which is no easy feat in an era where major programs are sanctioned left and right every year, some of whom are even forced to rescind entire seasons and national championships.
2. The Cats sign players who generally stay four years (or at least some of whom finish their degrees in three).
And that includes our guys who go on to the professional ranks. In the era of one-and-dones, Villanova has become something of an anomaly. That
See? We’re not so different.
3. We’re one of the last remaining vestiges of the old Big East, and that’s gotta count for something.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. ACC this and ACC that. I get it. You people love the ACC. But you can’t deny that the old Big East was special. Because they didn’t concern themselves with football, thus the old Big East was truly America’s basketball conference. Because the old Big East gave us Mullin and Ewing, the greatest upset basketball has ever seen, arguably the best postseason game of all-time, and THIS friggin Kemba Walker shot. Because Big East basketball was gritty, hard, violent, and thus perfectly encapsulated the cities where it was played. And because our Wildcats are one of the only things that ties then to now.
4. We hate Syracuse, too.
HATE. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate them. Hate their unis. Hate their point guards. Hate their football stadium that they play basketball in. Hate how even when they aren’t very good, you can never count them out of going deep in the tournament. We hate Syracuse. So I guess we have that in common.
5. Because like it or not, Villanova basketball has muscled their way into the echelon of blue-blood programs. So you might as well get on board.
A few weeks ago, Villanova broke the record for most wins in a four-year span, winning at least thirty-two games in each of those seasons. They just made their second Final Four in three seasons and could be cutting down the nets for a third time in school history tonight. Villanova has pulled up a chair beside the Kentuckys, the Dukes, the Kansases, and yes, the Carolina Tar Heels. And given their youth—there isn’t a senior on this season’s roster—and how well they’re coached, Villanova doesn’t appear to be going anywhere for a while.
6. Because we had Coach Mass.
One of basketball’s most lovable and enigmatic characters, a guy who threatened to leave his team in favor of a “big, steaming plate of linguini with clam sauce,” and a coach who would have prefered to love his players to death rather than work them to it, Coach Mass was truly one of a kind. And if you don’t look at this guy and smile just a little bit, well, I’m afraid there’s nothing more I can do to help.
So if you want to go on hating us forever, I understand. As a fervent basketball fan myself, I get it. Hell, I’m still mad about that bogus travel call on Allen Ray and that was thirteen years ago.
You could sit there and stew in your hatred forever because of one beautiful shot by one amazing shooter that gave us our second title instead of you your sixth. You could take some of the hatred that was formerly reserved for Duke and cast it upon our Wildcats. You could find yourselves another eternal foe, one of an entirely different conference, one who you’ll almost never see on the court.
Or you could get on board, adopt us, if only for tonight, and join in the growing chorus, as the voices of Nova Nation echo around the country, even if it’s quiet, under your breath, and only to yourself, and say it … “Let’s go ‘Nova … Let’s go ‘Nova!”