It's time to put Jay Wright in the pantheon of elite college coaches

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Jay Wright reflects on 2nd title in 3 years (2:16)

Jay Wright reflects on winning the national championship against Michigan, the struggles of past seasons and what's ahead for Villanova basketball. (2:16)

SAN ANTONIO -- As Villanova players cut down the basketball nets, Kris Jenkins draped his arm around Ryan Arcidiacono and the two former Wildcats reveled in the dynasty their alma mater has created.

The Wildcats' 79-62 national championship win over Michigan on Monday night had far less drama than Villanova's epic title victory two years ago, when Jenkins hit the game-winning shot to defeat North Carolina. That 2016 buzzer-beater helped get Villanova to a place where few programs ever go.

But Monday's win has taken Jay Wright to a place few coaches ever go. Wright is just the third active coach with multiple NCAA championships and just the second coach in Division I history with four straight 30-win seasons.

Bill Self is the other, and Wright's Villanova team dismantled Kansas so thoroughly in the national semifinal here that Self sat flabbergasted on the sideline, unable to conjure an answer for the offensive balance, efficiency and depth that defines these Wildcats.

So given what Wright has done at Villanova, and specifically what he has done over the past four years, you know what question comes next: Where does Wright belong in the conversation among the elite college coaches in the game?

"Hall of Famer!" Arcidiacono said amid the celebration.

"Unanimous! He should get every vote," Jenkins said.

"We're a little biased, though," Arcidiacono chimed in.

"Two [titles] in three years?" Jenkins said. "Everybody said he had a monkey on his back. He couldn't do it. We won it, and then to get the second one in three years? We're a blue blood. We've got the most wins over the past four years in college basketball. That's a testament to the coaching staff, Coach Wright and the guys that he recruits."

In many respects, college basketball teams are identifiable by their iconic coaches, from Mike Krzyzewski at Duke to Roy Williams at North Carolina to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse to Tom Izzo at Michigan State to John Calipari at Kentucky to Self at Kansas.

"Everybody said he had a monkey on his back. He couldn't do it. We won it, and then to get the second one in three years? We're a blue blood. We've got the most wins over the past four years in college basketball. That's a testament to the coaching staff, Coach Wright and the guys that he recruits."
Kris Jenkins

Wright has more national championships now than Boeheim, Calipari, Self and Izzo, and he has his program rolling in a way that seemed hard to fathom when he took the job in 2001. Mike Nardi has had a front-row seat for nearly all of it. Nardi was part of Wright's second recruiting class at Villanova, and the hard sell at that point was about restoring the program to its former glory.

But to envision what Villanova is now, a program with 136 wins in four years? Just a few years into his tenure, Wright had to deal with NCAA sanctions after players improperly used an access code to make unauthorized calls. Plus, Villanova had been average at best in his first three seasons, with zero NCAA tournament appearances. Fans started to get antsy, and some questioned whether he was the right coach for the job.

Wright has previously acknowledged that he knew he was on the hot seat going into the 2004-05 season. But then the Wildcats started winning, making NCAA tournaments and eventually the 2009 Final Four, a building block that helped get the Wildcats to this point.

"Just starting the program from scratch, obviously the tradition was there but regenerating the energy and getting us back to that winning tradition and putting guys on the floor that would play hard every night and defend ... it was only a matter of time that something like this may happen," said Nardi, who now serves as the Wildcats' director of basketball operations.

Nardi got a business degree from Villanova and played professionally overseas. But when it came time to figure out what he wanted to do once his playing career was finished, he decided to get into coaching. Now here he is, back with Wright, part of a program that has figured out a formula that works for the Wildcats.

It isn't a formula that works for everyone, mind you.

"You can take guys like him, guys like me, turn them into national champions who aren't highly recruited, turn them into NBA players and develop them," said former Wildcat and current Los Angeles Laker Josh Hart, as he stood arm in arm with Villanova guard Mikal Bridges. "That's what it takes to be a great coach. He's not a big one-and-done guy. He doesn't get the best players in the country that if you put three of them together you're going to win 25 games easily. He takes guys who are under-recruited, talented guys, high-character guys, and helps transform them into great basketball players."

Villanova guard Phil Booth offered his take.

"Everybody just sees cool Jay on the court, but how much he really cares about the players on this team shows a lot," Booth said. "He develops players, he really demands you to be the best player you can be. A lot of players came here and have one skill. They can shoot or score. He'll make you a defender, he'll make you a good passer, he'll make you a great rebounder. He does it all for you."

Now Wright has gotten Villanova to a point where players demand the bar to be set higher, where the young guys who watched Jenkins and Arcidiacono push themselves to become champions in their own right. Villanova should return the bulk of its team next season, so there will be more time to debate where Wright ranks among his peers. Perhaps he adds another title next season.

Once summer rolls around, though, there won't be any mention of the 30-win seasons or the national championships or whether Villanova has the best coach in America.

The Wildcats will start all over, with the same catch-and-shoot drills they run every season.

"He never takes his foot off the gas," said Villanova guard and Final Four most outstanding player Donte DiVincenzo. "He never thinks just because we had a 30-win season, the next year is just going to be easy. Whenever that happens, we go back to work and we never want to stay on top of a mountain. We go up on top of a mountain. We get up there, and then we're going to go back down and climb the bigger one."