NEW ORLEANS — Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats has long been the gift of the debonair among college basketball coaches. His rise to one of the sport’s elite coaches came with his elegant sideline suits, with no bold pattern left unworn.
As Villanova has become a top program and won national titles in 2016 and 2018, Wright’s outfits have become as much an identifiable hallmark of Villanova basketball as the program’s devotion to pivots, counterfeit shots and the extra pass.
On Saturday, when No. 2 seed Villanova takes on the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, Wright won’t be wearing one of his signature suits on the sidelines.
“I don’t think I’m going to wear a costume because I don’t have one,” Wright said. “But it was good. It’s easy to pack.”
This development is probably shocking to the casual fan and totally surprising to those who follow the sport closely. Wright has spent the past two seasons dressing casually on the sidelines, like most coaches. It’s a departure from the coach whose two suits he wore in title games in 2016 and 2018 are immortalized in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Much like an overwhelming majority of college and NBA coaches, Wright transitioned to more casual looks when the sport returned after being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. It made no sense to dress for an empty gym.
This meant for Wright that three-quarter zips replaced the pinstripes, checkerboards and patterned sets that accompanied his rise as one of the sport’s top trainers. Wright’s longtime tailor, Gabe D’Annunzio, died last year. Wright told the Philadelphia Inquirer that D’Annunzio would tell him, “We need something that’s going to show up.”
This is Wright’s fourth Final Four, and the first since casual attire became common. And so Wright joked that when he was packing his bags, he called his sports information manager, Mike Sheridan, to see if there were any Final Four events that required him to wear a suit.
Instead, the challenge becomes the entire coaching staff having coordinated sportswear on the sidelines.
“The hardest thing for me is that we all dress the same, so we have the same shirt, the same – they send me pictures of what to wear,” Wright said. . “I can’t tell the colors. I’m always nervous to find the right outfit. It’s hard, when you’re wearing a costume, I just choose what I want.”
A handful of college basketball coaches still wear suits, like Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Iona’s Rick Pitino, Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse, and new Maryland coach Kevin Willard. In the other Final Four match, neither North Carolina’s Hubert Davis nor Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski wore a suit during the games.
Wright left this world. And when he steps onto the Final Four court on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at Caesars Superdome, Kansas coach Bill Self will be relieved. Self recognized the fashion’s obvious mismatch.
“No one could compete with him in that regard,” Self said. “But I kinda like the way we do it. I like it. I hope it stays casual in the future. I know, I think our leagues will probably have a lot to do with what the coaches do. , because in our league we voted unanimously to do so.”
While traditionalists and tailors will lament the end of an era, Self pointed to a positive. “You save money on dry cleaning.”